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High-stakes garbage smugglers

By Liang Chen (Global Times)

15:57, May 20, 2013

Some of the ramshackle streets of Jieshi town, a coastal area administered by the city of Lufeng, Guangdong Province, are no longer paved with just stone or asphalt, instead, they are coated with ragged, discarded clothes.

These clothes fell off trucks while they were being transported, but locals scarcely pay them any attention.

"There are at least 10,000 households making a living by distributing and selling secondhand clothes smuggled from foreign countries. Those clothes are so cheap that no one bends down to pick them up when they are dropped on the road," Huang Xiaoling, a local businesswoman selling secondhand clothes, told the Global Times over the phone.

Jieshi has developed a reputation as a collection and distribution center for secondhand clothes illegally imported from foreign countries. A black market for smuggling, processing and selling secondhand clothes discarded by foreign countries is rampant in Jieshi due to its convenient access to maritime transport. However, there is a dark side to this trade, as an unseen health crisis looms.

Dead man's clothes

Each night, several trucks can be seen transporting tons of clothes to a secret warehouse at one end of the town, and each year, an estimated 100 million pieces of clothes are distributed into other provinces and cities from the town.

Dubbed "junk clothes," these clothes come from dumps or in some cases more ghoulish sources. Insiders say they occasionally come from dead bodies.

"Those secondhand clothes can spread bacteria by touching people's skin, which might have negative implications for public health," Wang Jianming, a chemistry expert from the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, told the Global Times.

In Jieshi town, many locals set aside a floor of their home for storage of secondhand clothes. Colorful clothes, with obvious stains and illegible brands, are packed in plastic bags and piled up to the ceiling. Some local people have set up movable plank houses to store the mountains of clothes, the Guangzhou Daily reported.

"A Hong Kong boss is in charge of purchasing secondhand clothes in European countries and South Korea then sells them to two local people here. Then, the two locals resell these junk clothes to local citizens running family businesses," a source in Jieshi town, who asked not to be named, told the Global Times.

There are two channels through which these clothes are imported. The first is using fake shipping documents to smuggle the clothes in; the other is to transport them to inland cities via Hong Kong and then transport them to other coastal cities to avoid customs inspections, the source said.

"A large number of junk clothes come from clothes thrown away by families in Western countries. They could be the clothes of dead people," Zhang Ahua, a Guangzhou clothes-trader who has been in the industry for more than a decade, told the Global Times.

According to the Guangzhou Daily, most of the wholesale merchants selling secondhand clothes operate out of hidden alleys, and most of the shop owners do business with acquaintances only, in order to avoid trouble.

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