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Persistent trading of second-hand underwear

TRADE in second hand undergarments in Zambia has continued to escalate despite existing legislation banning its importation and sale.
The ban, which is secured under the Zambian Standards (ZS) 559, prohibits the importation and

sell of used undergarments, such as pyjamas, night dresses, night gowns, ladies and gents briefs, brassieres, camisoles and vests.
The reason for the ban is simple; it is unhygienic as health expert’s advice that used underwear attracts moisture that may result in fungi such as yeasts and mold, and subsequently result in ailments such as skin rash around the reproductive organs area and urinary tract infections.
However, despite the ban and health advice, undergarments have continued to find their way on the streets and eventually on the bodies of buyers.
In Lusaka, the banned clothing such as men’s and children’s briefs, ladies brassieres are being sold freely on Lumumba Road right behind the Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS), which is the enforcement agency.
The men’s briefs range between K5 to K20, children’s pants fetch K3 while ladies brassieres go for K20.
One of the traders, only identified as Mrs Banda, says she acquires the underwear from wholesalers owned mostly by foreign nationals.
Mrs Banda said the wholesalers conceal the undergarments and are only sold to trusted clients for fear of ‘clashing’ with the law.
“If you go there as a new client, they will never sell you the ‘stuff’, unless one of their trusted clients introduces you to them,” Mrs Banda says.
Aaron Phiri, a trader of used brassieres and ladies pants brags he sells the clothing freely and has never been visited by ZABS inspectors.
Mr Phiri, who has been in the business for three years, says the trade is lucrative and he does not see himself trading in other type of second hand garments.
“The ladies brassieres and pants are ‘hot cakes’. My consignment is from the United Kingdom (UK) and women from all walks of life buy from here,” Mr Phiri says.
Mirriam Chanda, who trades in children’s pants and other clothing, says in the five years of her trade, her consignment of pants was only confiscated once by ZABS inspectors.
“A few days later, I bribed one of the inspectors and I was given my goods back. Since then, it is business as usual.
“I’m aware of the health effects of selling underwear but I have children to raise and feed. I’m a single mother and I need to educate my family,” Ms Chanda says.
ZABS has severally warned of stern action against importers and traders of the undergarments and so perhaps, the biggest question is who is behind the importation of the underwear and is the enforcement agency doing enough to ‘police’ the situation?
The illegal trading is happening right behind ZABS premises and so one would wonder where the inspectors are.
According to an impeccable source within ZABS, some inspectors, especially in the border areas allegedly work with importers, mainly foreign nationals to smuggle the undergarments.
The source said the containers of the second hand clothing are usually inspected at warehouses instead of the point of entry.
“Usually, the consignments of these prohibited undergarments are concealed within bales of other clothing such as dresses, trousers and shirts. When the containers reach the warehouses, ZABS inspectors are required to inspect them but since they are usually bribed, they just travel to collect their ‘share’,” the source said.
The source says corruption and lack of enforcement has made the fight against second hand underwear practically impossible.
ZABS head of marketing and public relations Hazel Zulu says the agency is aware of the pockets of traders still engaged in the sale of the illegal clothing.
Mrs Zulu, however, says the agency is focusing on paralysing the syndicate of importers of the underwear as traders are only a fraction of the ‘problem’.
She says ZABS officials have intensified what it terms inland inspections in warehouses adding that in the period 2014-2015, over 200 bales of underwear were confiscated in Lusaka and the perpetrators were penalised.
“I agree there are still pockets of traders engaged in the illicit activity but what we are focusing on now is paralysing the trade on the importers perspective because we know when we confiscate products from traders on the streets, we are not solving the entire problem.
“So, we inspect the warehouses and we actually find these products and charge the offenders 15 percent of the total value of the seized goods. They also pay the cost of incineration and or destruction of the goods,” she says.
Mrs Zulu says the fight against the second hand clothing is being aided by the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) that has declared zero tolerance to smuggling.
Mrs Zulu says it is ‘tricky’ to penalise and or identify inspectors involved in the illegal trade without concrete evidence.
She, however, says the agency has an integrity committee and workplace policy on code of ethics which all employees should adhere to.
Mrs Zulu reiterated the call for members of the public to shun used undergarments as it is a risk to their health.