The noose is gradually tightening around the Chinese clothing giant Shein, emblem of“ultra-fast fashion” (over there “ultra fast mode”) characterized by very abundant production sold at low prices. On Tuesday, November 14, the French branch of the OECD gave the green light to initiate proceedings against the Chinese multinational (1), which has been present in Europe for less than ten years and is accused by NGOs of not respecting human rights and environmental rights in its production processes.
This approach follows a referral from the socialist group in the National Assembly. It was submitted in June 2023 to the French National Contact Point of the OECD, which monitors the correct application of the rules imposed on companies in the field of respect for human rights. This reference runs parallel to an investigation launched on June 28 by the French Ministry of Economy, which aims to identify the excesses of the textile industry, in particular that of the Chinese giant.
Symbol of “ultra-fast fashion”
Without legal weight, the OECD procedure aims to initiate discussions between the stakeholders – socialist representatives and Shein’s global management – to determine whether the brand complies with international regulations and French laws, in particular those of the duty of vigilance. The brand has agreed to play the game and will participate in the discussions, which denies any accusations.
Shein is exclusively available online and offers more than 600,000 references, of which 6,000 are renewed every day, at reduced prices: t-shirts at € 3, dresses at € 8, jeans at € 15… The brand focuses mainly on the generation of 15 – 20 year olds and relies heavily on the Chinese social network TikTok.
Shein, the pride of the Chinese economy, has enjoyed spectacular global success: during the pandemic, the brand is said to have tripled its turnover, which would be at the level of the Spanish giant Zara. It has been pursuing an initial public offering on US markets for several months and is targeting a valuation of $80 to $90 billion.
Shein suspected of inciting forced labor among Uighurs
But the other side of this success is very dark. For years, Shein has been accused by many associations of denying the human rights of its employees, with working days of up to eighteen hours, unpaid overtime… The brand is also suspected by a group of American parliamentarians of profiting from the exploitation of the Uyghurs , a Muslim minority imprisoned in camps in China.
Based on numerous journalistic and also NGO studies, the procedure initiated by the socialist group and validated by the OECD aims solely to create space for discussions with society: at the end of the procedure it cannot be decided on sanctions.
‘I have a lot of hope for trade rules’ supports Dominique Potier, PS deputy on the basis of the referral, referring to the French law on the duty of vigilance of which he was co-rapporteur in 2017. “But the path of dialogue, although certainly inadequate, is not useless. It is an additional lever that aims to stimulate the debate on the marketing of Shein products, listen to the brand’s arguments and – finally – give a face to this company…’
A very secret brand
Until now, the brand has remained very opaque about all information concerning it: supply chains, names of subcontractors, company figures, safety standards, etc. It has nevertheless agreed to participate in the OECD procedure. “Shein responded quickly and met with the NCP when we were contacted in July. We have cooperated and will continue to cooperate fully to respond to any questions the NCP may have.”, she told La Croix. The directors are expected to meet Dominique Potier and his colleague Boris Vallaud in the coming months.
“By responding, Shein shows that she understands that we are not alone enslaved consumers, and that what he was accused of could tarnish his reputation,” continues Dominique Potier. However, it is difficult to believe that these subsequent discussions will lead to a radical change in the economic model – and prosperous for the time being – from Shein…
Finally, Socialist elected officials hope that the procedure will fuel discussions surrounding the European Directive on the Duty of Vigilance, which is currently being developed. “It is an invitation to develop an ambitious law, concludes Dominique Potier, which France must defend at all costs. »