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World Vision under fire for NFL “loser” clothing donations

Superbowl 2011

It may sound like a nice enough thing to do, but a lot of folks think it’s actually harmful and even immoral.

Donating clothing.

Super Bowl 2011

Ever wonder what happens to all those Super Bowl “champions” shirts and hats that are printed up in advance, but for the losing team? In America, probably only folks in places with an excessive tendency towards self-deprecation (like some of the wetter corners of the nordically infested neighborhoods in Seattle) would want to wear loser sports gear.

Given this, World Vision for the past 15 years has been collecting this loser gear left over from the Super Bowl and (according to its website) distributing it to people in poor countries:

World Vision identifies countries and communities in need overseas who will benefit from the gear. This year’s unused Super Bowl merchandise will make its way to Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua, and Romania in the months to come. On average, this equates to about 100 pallets annually — $2 million worth of product — or about 100,000 articles of clothing that, instead of being destroyed, will help children and adults in need.

So don’t be surprised if you see lots of folks in southern Africa, eastern Europe or Central America mistakenly believing the Pittsburgh Steelers won.

As nice, or maybe slightly bizarre but well-intended, as this may sound, many people have a problem with it. If you’re not familiar with the long-running critique of what’s wrong with donating clothing, take a look at this Time magazine story about the 1 Million T-shirts campaign.

Saundra Schimmelpfennig of Good Intentions Are Not Enough says poor people don’t want or usually need donated clothing. They have clothing. What they actually need is economic assistance, improved education, better food, medicines and the like. The only ones who really benefit from this scheme, she says, are the merchandizers and maybe the non-profit organizations:

So essentially the company prints off an equal number of Super Bowl shirts for each team, knowing that they won’t be able to sell any of the shirts with the losing team’s logo. They then donate the shirts to World Vision claiming a value of $20 per shirt. This is the amount that the business then deducts from their taxes for their charitable donation.

Tom Murphy, at A View From the Cave, takes a more neutral position and provides a nice round-up of some of the criticism out there as well as a response from World Vision. Murphy included a link to the blog to Wanderlust, which calls upon World Vision to end this practice:

The fact is, it’s just bad practice. It’s usually bad for the local economy. It breeds an expectation among communities of handouts from NGOs. It doesn’t really benefit anybody. There’s a whole host of other costs associated with this process- storage, shipping, customs, distribution- and even if these are carried by somebody else and not you, somebody is paying a substantial amount of money for an activity that is largely valueless.

Here’s an excerpt of the response from World Vision’s Amy Parodi (no, not Parody) that Murphy has posted on his site. Basically, Parodi says the clothing distribution is done within the broader context of all the many different aid initiatives carried out by World Vision around the world:

Our distributions of supplies, including, sometimes, new clothing and new shoes, are not standalone projects in isolation. Rather, these supplies are tools as part of larger development strategies and are distributed under the following circumstances: · After we have established an understanding of the culture to ensure that we only send clothes and other supplies that are appropriate religiously and culturally.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.