The ugly addiction to consumption
The ugly addiction to consumption
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Someone I follow on X recently expressed how shocking it is to them that people are online, proudly sharing that they only wear certain things once. Another added that their time on social media had made them realise more and more that very few people care enough about the environment to the extent that they would consider a conscious approach to how they consume. 

This was shortly after the announcement of new tax tariffs on e-commerce purchases for SA consumers, starting July 1. It’s reported that a higher tax of 45% plus VAT will now be imposed on individual purchases of as little as R500 from China’s disruptive e-commerce giants Shein and Temu, as well as other similar companies. This is a move aimed at closing what some have referred to as a tax loophole that has allowed consumers to buy from these fast fashion companies without paying heavy import duty taxes. 

This has allowed many to act out their Hollywood and social media dreams of wearing their shiny outfits only once, before discarding them, presumably just like their favourite celebrity or similar pop-culture figure. I hope this sounds as dumb and ridiculous as it is. 

Many of those lamenting these new tariffs have suggested that it may be a blow for consumers. SA Express Parcel Association (Saepa) CEO Garry Marshall was quoted by IOL as saying consumers rely on the likes of Shein and Temu for “low-cost clothing for their children and families”, adding that there was nothing “to substantiate claims that Shein and Temu are exploiting a Sars loophole since all goods (are) cleared through authorised customs channels”.

Some have even suggested that this is another failure of our always failing government. This is probably the most ridiculous sentiment I came across on social media, and when looking into these kinds of threads on social media, I’m always blown away at how serious people are. How did we get here? 

See, arguments such as those of Saepa’s Marshall can be expected, considering his business directly benefits from Shein and Temu being able to ship cheap clothing into the country at low costs, but the idea that it’s for the benefit of consumers just doesn’t hold. Being able to purchase objectively low-quality clothing you won’t be able to wear even three, four or five times, because it wears out as soon as a hot iron lands on it for the first time, is something so many have come to believe to be a right. 

How can they not, when capitalism continues to wreak havoc for so long? I’m even surprised that SA’s tax authority made the move to impose taxes on Shein and Temu, but we’re not the only ones doing so.

Governments around the world, including the US and in the EU are moving to do the same, recognising the harm that these enterprises are doing to local economies, and industries. SA’s department of trade & industry announced back in March that it had opened an investigation into Shein’s practices in particular. Findings from that investigation have not been made public, nor is it clear how far the investigation has gone. Still, Sars made the tax move in a bid to protect the local economy.

Naspers, which owns, agreed with the move, accusing Temu and Shein of threatening SA’s efforts to re-industrialise and localise manufacturing. 

Now, of course, Lisa from Parkview, whose only concern is looking fab at the numerous social events she has to attend over the weekend; or Ayanda, whose Instagram and Tik-Toks need content that is fresh and new every time, is obviously not too concerned about the real cost of fast-fashion. Evidently, beyond economics, governments are also not moved by the urgency of the damage fast-fashion is causing on the environment, but I’d say it’s a good start that there is some movement against the detrimental monster that is fast-fashion and its unabated appetite for profit. 

I shouldn’t need to spell this out, but considering over 17,000 people had signed a petition to stop the new taxes before the publication of this column; it’s pretty clear that most people have been successfully brainwashed into believing that their survival is somehow dependent on consuming at all cost. 

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