Criminal Clothing Collection Thieves Threaten Jobs

The threat from organised criminal gangs that are deliberately targeting used clothing collections from households and collection banks is on the increase. This is causing great concern for the honest and hard working businesses that are the backbone of the UK used clothing industry and which pay hundreds of millions of pounds annually to UK charities.

The Textile Recycling Association (TRA) wants to highlight that it is not only charities that are feeling the effects of this disgraceful activity through loss of vital revenue for them, but that it threatens the job security of people working in the industry which employs up to 10,000 people.

The TRA estimate that in the last 12 months legitimate used clothing collectors paid in excess of £200 million to charities for all the clothing collections. The figure though is being seriously eroded through large amounts of items being callously stolen to benefit the pockets of organised criminal gangs and intelligence gathered so far suggests that some money is being used for drug trafficking, people smuggling and other unsavoury activities.

One of the Government’s main “waste related” objectives is to remove more clothing and textiles away from disposal. The main initiative for delivering these objectives is The Sustainable Clothing Roadmap. However, the gangs are disrupting this process by making the industry less commercially viable, which in turn makes it more difficult for those legitimate collectors to establish further collections.

Time and again CCTV footage has shown how these gangs operate, particularly in relation to clothing banks where sophistication is not at its highest level, but by forcing their way into containers they cause considerable criminal damage, deny the benefitting charity of valuable income and steal the income that is much needed for the businesses that operate the majority of clothing banks on behalf of charity in the UK. It is also exceptionally dangerous to break into banks and several people have been killed by trying to do this in recent years.

Ray Clark, the Operations Manager from LM Barry and Co, which operates clothing bank, door to door and charity shop collections from their base in East London said:

“We just can’t keep up with the thefts. We had to make people redundant last year and this is completely down to the losses we are making from the break-ins. We’ve also spent more than £250,000 modifying bins just to stop people breaking into them.”

Gerald Cemmell, President of the TRA also makes an important point of saying “that payments to a clothing collector’s respective charity partners are affected greatly when these incidences occur”.

The issue is being taken seriously by the authorities. Tracey Crouch MP for Chatham and Aylesford secured a debate in Parliament where she called for the Police to take action to tackle these criminal gangs and following on from that the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) has set up an intelligence gathering team to investigate these specific problems. The Textile Recycling Association and other agencies are working with NFIB to collate and map intelligence and we hope to see tangible results soon.

In the meantime, the public are encouraged to continue to support all legitimate collections. Whilst donations made directly through to charity shops are not affected it is important that the public continue to support charitable door to door and clothing bank collections. Many charities with shops obtain stock for their shops through door to door collections, but what is perhaps even more significant is that the vast majority of the UK’s 200,000 registered charities do not operate shops and for charities in that position door to door collections and clothing bank collections are the only viable way in which they can gain much needed income.

Further Information

National Fraud Intelligence Bureau

Revised Code of Practice for Charitable Door to Door Collections.
Legitimate Door to Door Clothing Collectors are expected to operate to high professional standards.  The Institute of Fundraising (the trade body for professional charitable fundraisers) together with the Fundraising Standards Board (the independent regulatory body for charitable fundraising) have recently launched a revised Code of Practice for Charitable Door to Door Collections.

Download the Revised Code of Practice for Charitable Door to Door Collections PDF

This revised code was launched in April 2011 and the Textile Recycling Association (TRA) is working with the Fundraising Standards Board and the Institute of Fundraising to encourage TRA members that participate in charitable door to door collections to sign up to the code.

Institute of Fundraising

Fundraising Standards Board