The Economist reports: »Inside a small, gloomy factory in a provincial city in Pakistan, two young men huddle over a grinding wheel. They believe they are making surgical instruments. But like many of the small, local firms manufacturing steel and leather goods for export, their employer has a new sideline. The nine-inch steel tubes whose tips the men are diligently smoothing are, in fact, dildos. “It’s just another piece of metal for them,” says the firm’s owner, who picks one up to show how his worldlier customers—all of them abroad—can easily grip the gleaming device.
The risk has so far proven worthwhile. A local maker of leather goods, one of 64 sex-toy suppliers based in the city that list on Alibaba, says that only a small proportion of its sales comes from fetish gear. But the company can earn as much as 200% profit on a kinky corset or policeman’s uniform, compared with just 25% on mundane jackets and gloves, its original business. To minimise the potential for outrage, production lines are arranged carefully, with only trusted staff putting on the final spikes and studs. To those who complain that the products the firm makes might encourage unmarried or gay people to fornicate—an illegal activity for both groups in Pakistan—the owner’s son has a ready riposte. “What if a gay person wears a [normal] jacket that was also produced by us?” he asks. The company does not know, and has no business knowing, how customers use its products, he says.
Less flexible businessmen may be missing an opportunity. Buoyed by the international success of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, an erotic film that was not released in Pakistan (although locals have posted plenty of spoofs on YouTube), global sales of sex toys have reached about $15bn a year. And recent developments favour Pakistan. Local firms cannot compete in rubber toys, as the latex they would have to import from China is subject to a hefty tariff. But Western customers increasingly opt for alternative materials, including metal, in the wake of reports that many Chinese toys contain a carcinogenic chemical. Back in his office, the owner of the metal-working factory invites your correspondent to feel how smoothly his labourers have polished a dildo. “You can use Pakistani steel for a long time,” he says, approvingly. “It rusts much later than Indian or Chinese.”