ASDA evicts recyclers that are not registered charities

The Times (UK)/September 4, 2006
By Sarah Butler

ASDA has evicted a network of clothing recyclers from its car parks after discovering that the companies behind donation bins are not registered charities.

The supermarket sent a legal letter to Planet Aid, a company linked to the mysterious Danish organisation Humana People to People, asking it to remove all bins before this past weekend. Some had appeared overnight without permission.

Ian Bowles, the head of corporate social responsibility for Asda, said: "Planet Aid recycling banks started appearing, uninvited, not just in our car parks, but in other retailers', too. The Salvation Army run clothing banks in our car parks. They are a registered charity; Planet Aid is not.

"That's why we've taken the decision to get our legal team involved and insisted the recycling banks were removed by the end of August. We urge all the other retailers to follow suit. It's important that organisations such as this can justify the good faith our customers put in them."

Mr Bowles said that Planet Aid had been asked several times to remove the bins, but that they had been replaced with bins labelled with names linked to Humana, including Gaia and Green World Recycling. Each of the bins, which were placed outside 35 Asda stores as well at other supermarkets, can generate as much as £450 a month. Planet Aid alone claims to have 700 clothing banks in Britain.

Birgit Soe, head of Planet Aid in the UK, said that the company was a not-for-profit organisation and raised funds for projects in Mozambique, India and Angola. She said that the company was not a registered charity because that would prevent it buying and selling clothing, its main form of fundraising.

She said: "I have written to Asda asking them to meet me to discuss the work we do in more than 30 countries."

Ms Soe was not able to provide The Times with audited accounts for Planet Aid, and Asda said that it had not received accounts despite several requests.

In the late 1990s Ms Soe was associated with another clothes- recycling charity, Humana UK, which fell foul of the Charity Commission for financial mismanagement. When investigated, it was found that only 8 per cent of its turnover was going to good causes. Humana UK was closed.

Both Humana UK and Planet Aid are linked through Ms Soe to the Teachers' Group, sometimes known as Tvind. Ms Soe acknowledged that she was a member of the group. The Teachers' Group is run on the principles of a common economy with members pooling income and wealth.

The millions raised by the Teachers' Group is spent on its own charities and is difficult to track because the cash crosses national boundaries and often ends up in an offshore account.

The Charity Commission advised people wishing to donate clothing to check whether a bin is operated by a registered charity. Any company claiming to be a charity but not so registered can face investigation by Trading Standards.

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