“Behind the Green Box” – ‘Gaia’ & ‘Campus California’ clothes donation bins in San Francisco

Donating your old clothes back to charity
is a nice thing to do. But do you know how your donations are being used? CBS 5 investigative reporter Anna Werner
has been looking into one operation. She joins us this morning with a look into
how some of those donations are being used. Yeah, thanks Joe. And, you know, you may have seen them.
They’re appearing on many corners these days — bright, green boxes for people to donate clothing. At first glance it may look like just another charity. But a closer look behind the green box raises questions about
who put them there and where those donations are going. They’re popping up all over
— green boxes with a large “GAIA” logo. Oakland, San Rafael, Lafayette.
Soon there will be over 300 of them in the Bay Area. [How ’bout these?] And for people who are eager to donate
their old clothing to help charitable causes, like Jodie Consoli: It’s really convenient because I can go anytime I want
and drop them in there. And the convenience factor is paying off. [This is all the miscellaneous stuff …] The man who supervises the recycled clothes collection
from those new green boxes, Jan Sako says his group is now raking in the donations. For ’05 the total collection
is 3.1 million pounds. [Comin’ down!] That’s the same amount the Salvation Army in Oakland
collected last year, and they’ve been around for years. What’s at stake? Big bucks. There is money in used clothing. Major Bill Heiselma says at the Salvation Army
that 3 million pounds of recycled clothing would bring in some 3 million dollars. It’s much more competitive now in 2006 than,
say, it would have been in 1986. And what the Salvation Army does with that money is
help local residents struggling with addiction to turn their lives around. So, where does the money from the green boxes go? One might think Africa. It has this picture of a child that looks like
they’re from a poorer society, so it indicated that they would be helping those poorer societies. But when we asked Jan Sako, he told us: There’s no direct money going to Africa. So if they think that they’re
giving clothes to a charity … Yeah, that’s probably a misleading thing, yes. Instead, he told us the
fine print on those bins says: Our purpose is to train international volunteers
for development projects in southern Africa and South America. And where do they train those volunteers to work in Africa? He says at “Campus California,”
here in the northern California logging town of Etna. So just what is the Campus California? You’re lookin’ at it. Sako says the clothing money goes into the
programs run here, out of this small, 2-story office building. Dean Fowler, from Britain, was one of the
first volunteers who came here five years ago. Mostly I wanted to travel and like, see the world,
but at the same time, you know, do something which would make an impact. But of his training, he says it was spotty at best. There were subjects like watch a DVD on Battlestar Galactica,
or you know, learn to play chess. And those trainers? He and other former volunteers told CBS 5
there were few if any real teachers. The guy who was our teacher for our group
was actually a guy who was a volunteer. The only reason he was a teacher for the group was because
he was one of the first ones there. [So it will be difficult …] And when CBS 5 went undercover at
a training recruitment session for future development volunteers, we found that much of Campus California’s “training”
is really devoted to fundraising. Recruiter Josefin Jonsson told the group: So it’s a lot of different tasks.
Some are also working with … second hand clothes collection. And in addition to paying more than $3,000 in “program fees,”
each trainee must regularly solicit for money on the street. In fact, when one of our producers asked: Do you have to fundraise? Josefin told her: …and the answer is yes. No matter what? No matter what.
And the reason for that is because the fundraising is very educational. You learn so much, you know, for being out there … for walking, for talking, for doing it again and again and again, you know? Basically, Fowler says they were trained to beg. It was about the money,
because that’s all they ever seemed to bring up. They’d tell you, in the 6 month period, there’s 7 weeks of fundraising.
And you have to earn $7,000. [We were raising a lot of money …] In fact, when former volunteer Nicole Mourant
heard about our investigation, she agreed to make this tape and send it from Canada,
just so she could tell us her concerns. So after the first week, a few of us were
really talking again about where exactly this money is going. It was not what it seems.
I didn’t like not knowing the whole story behind the organization. So what is that story? It goes back to Denmark and a group called “Tvind”
that started in the 1970s. They were hippies, they were Maoist type communists. Michael Durham is a British journalist who
set up a website to investigate the group. The reason people haven’t heard more about this group
is because it was founded and run by Danish people. Most of the documentation is in Danish. But that small Danish group has now grown
into a worldwide, multimillion-dollar empire with a murky network of companies, and 13
training schools, including Campus California. What’s happened over the last 20 years or so is that
the people who began this and control the organization have moved into a huge profit-making organization. Durham says by Danish police estimates,
Tvind now has some $860 million in assets, which the Danish government says includes
luxury homes, yachts and plantations. The amount of money involved in this is just breathtaking. And that helped spark a major prosecution
of this man ― Tvind leader Mogens Amdi Pedersen, and seven other Tvind leaders by the Danish
government ― for fraud and tax evasion. Countless inquiries and investigations have
raised questions about where the money goes and what it’s used for. So, where does he think the money, potentially tens of millions of dollars, from the U.S. clothing operations goes? They’re not going to Africa. They’re being sold within the organization
and most of the money is being creamed off. Durham points to this company, Garson & Shaw,
whose top two executives are Tvind members. What is Garson & Shaw’s business?
Selling used clothes for a profit. Clothes that they get from nonprofit clothes collectors
who we found are also connected to Tvind. Which raises a question:
is Campus California, a registered nonprofit, siphoning off potential income to
a for-profit company under its same umbrella? We attempted to ask that question to
Garson & Shaw, but they refused to comment. And remember Josefin Jonsson,
the Campus California official in our undercover video? Josefin! We’re with Channel 5.
Can I talk to you for a second? We found her at the campus in Etna.
But when we tried to ask her that same question … Could I ask you a couple questions? I mind. I don’t want … sorry. And as for Jan Sako: You sell clothes to Garson & Shaw? This is business information. I’m wondering
how did you get that information, because … Are you trying to tell me it’s not true? I’m not going to tell you anyone
who do we sell clothes to! The reason that they’ve operated with impunity
for so long in the United States is because people are not asking the right questions. And that former volunteer Dean Fowler says,
when it comes to Campus California, he believes: You know, they’re not telling you the whole truth,
you know, if they’re telling you the truth at all. By the way, that volunteer,
Dean Fowler, never got to Africa. He says after he refused to do any more fundraising
at Campus California, he was told to leave. Meanwhile, prosecutors in Denmark convicted one of the Tvind members they prosecuted, and are re-filing against the rest. Joe? Wow, that’s interesting. So how do you know
if you are donating to a legitimate organization? Well there are ways that you can check them out.
You know, the Better Business Bureau; you can go to their website, take a look.
And also you might want to take a look at the different organizations and figure out if
that is a group that you want to support based on their mission. Take a look at what they say that their goals are, and try to get a sense for whether they’re really fulfilling those goals. And by the way, just because they say they’re
nonprofit doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the case. Well, they may be a nonprofit. However, the
question is whether or not and how efficiently those nonprofits are using their funds and
their donations that are coming in. And they may be using them for purposes that you decide
you do want to support, or that you don’t. Alright, Anna Werner, thank you!


  1. We have a Unique Thrift here in Louisville, we donated a few shirts in the Green bin, the same ones mysteriously showed up at Unique thrift..Another For Profit place, that says they are a Recycle org. Owned by Apogee Company, when in fact they are owned by a for profit individual ….so Green Box, Unique thrift..are all a scam to make Someone even Richer than they already are.

  2. For the latest media reports about charity fraud and related concerns, our news-feed is: https://tinyurl.com/RB4UD-NewsFeed

Leave a Reply

(*) Required, Your email will not be published