Their clothing collection boxes are popping up all over the country, along with local stories questioning where how the group operates and where the money goes. To no avail.
Last year we talked about the secretive Tvind or Teacher's Group organization (Try to Catch Tvind, November 5, 2006) that has gotten into the used clothing business in the US mainly through an affiliated organization called Planet Aid (EIN 04-3348171 Form 990).
I noticed that the Lancaster Intelligencer (Larry Alexander) recently reported on the Planet Aid story, but not reporting anything particularly new about the group.
Much of the information has been assembled by the Humana Alert web site (http://www.tvindalert.com), which is an unincorporated volunteer project edited by Frede Jakobsen (Denmark) and Mike Durham (UK), two investigative journalists who say that the total costs of the operation are $760 a year for web hosting costs. One of their notable findings is the connection between the leadership of the group and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who allowed the organization to build a large headquarters building in Shamva, Zimbabwe. The site also claims that they have used the proceeds of clothing sales to purchase large plantations in a number of countries, including Brazil, Belize, and Ecuador.
There was another story by television station ABC 49 in Topeka, Kansas, again raising the question of where the money goes. The Form 990s are not much help in this regard, other than to indicate that the nominal leaderships of groups like Planet Aid or Campus California TG (EIN 94-3371033 Form 990) aren't making much money. But the allegation is that funds are funneled off from a number of different charities to allow the central leadership group to live a life of luxury.
Only one story, from CBS 3 in Philadelphia, raised the possibility that Planet Aid could be affecting the used clothes collection efforts of Goodwill. This story began to address the issue of lax enforcement: it pointed out that the Federal Trade Commission has never moved against Planet Aid or its affiliates.
The story also claims that there is a bill in New Jersey that would require additional disclosures from organizations placing collection boxes, and apparently S.597 passed both houses. It requires local permits for clothing bins along with disclosure on the bin about where the proceeds go. It would not appear that this requirement will have any effect on Planet Aid, which is already a duly registered 501(c)(3) charity in its own right.
So the operation of Planet Aid shows no sign of stopping or even slowing down. How many more local investigations have to take place before there is an official investigation of the organization and where its money goes?