My girlfriend and I went shopping at one of the markets in Phnom Penh. She wanted to buy clothes and undergarments to take back to the US, since the items are inexpensive here.
We approached the lady at the market and asked her where they sell underwear, and the lady said: “Used or new?” We were speechless.
I can understand second-hand shirts, pants and even shoes, but to buy used underwear will never be on my list, and also for the country of Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, the government has banned the importation of second-hand underwear. They believe that this is dehumanising to the people, and will not allow them to wear undergarments used and discarded by other people.
In the US, a sting operation occurred where women’s underwear were purchased in numerous retailers, and were later returned. In some cases, they stained the underwear with baby oil and the retailer used a deodorizer to remove the smell and put them back on the sales rack.
Despite the store’s policy not to resell them, it is not illegal to sell used underwear. However, there may be some local health laws against this practice.
Second-hand clothes and undergarments in Cambodia come from Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. The used underwear has not been washed and they sell it straight out of the boxes from the vendors. You can still see the stains on the underwear.
People who buy used underwear assume the cost is cheaper than for new ones. In the markets in Phnom Penh, underwear will cost from $1.25-$2.00, new or used. Why purchase a used one when you can get a new one at the same price?
The importation of second-hand undergarments is not only humiliating to the people, but the new user can be affected by venereal diseases and there is a risk to personal hygiene.
The Ghana Standards Authority has reported that body fluids from private parts of the first underwear user could transfer micro-organisms to the new underwear user, which can cause skin irritations and other health issues. Micro-organisms still stay on the underwear for six months and after this they begin to activate themselves, leading to skin rashes.
A Malaysian volunteer group, Pertubuhan Amal Seri Sinar, collects used underwear to donate to needy people in Cambodia and Vietnam. In Japan, used underwear is sold in vending machines for a price of 500 yen.
Today, with easy access to the internet, the selling and buying of used underwear online is very popular, and can also be profitable.
Those who buy second-hand underwear are probably not aware of the health risks. Retailers state that the people who buy second-hand items earn low incomes. But sometimes if you cut costs on one thing, you end up paying more for another, and in this case, medical bills.
Educating the public about this topic might seem bizarre, but buying used underwear seems a bit more bizarre.
The Social Agenda with Soma Norodom
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.