The noose is gradually tightening around the Chinese clothing giant Shein, emblem of “ultra fast fashion” characterized by very abundant production sold at knockdown prices. Tuesday, November 14, the French branch of the OECD gave the green light to begin proceedings against the Chinese multinational, present for less than ten years in Europe and accused by NGOs of non-respect of human rights and environmental aspects in its manufacturing 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 ensures the proper application of the rules imposed on companies in terms of respect for human rights. This referral is made in parallel with an investigation launched on June 28 by the French Ministry of the Economy and which aims to identify the excesses of the textile industry, in particular those of the Chinese giant.
Without legal weight, the OECD procedure aims to initiate discussions between the stakeholders – socialist deputies and the global management of Shein – in order to verify whether the brand complies with international regulations and French laws, in particular that of of the duty of vigilance. The brand has agreed to play the game and will participate in the discussions, which denies any accusation.
Exclusively available online, Shein offers more than 600,000 references, including 6,000 renewed every day, at discounted prices: t-shirts at €3, dresses at €8, jeans at €15… The brand is aimed above all at the generation of 15-20 year olds and relies heavily on the Chinese social network TikTok.
The pride of the Chinese economy, Shein is enjoying 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. For several months, it has been seeking an IPO on the American markets and is targeting a valuation of $80 to $90 billion.
But the other side of this success is very dark. For years, Shein has been accused by numerous 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 parliamentarians Americans to profit from the exploitation of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority locked up in camps in China.
Based on numerous journalistic and also NGO investigations, the procedure initiated by the socialist group and validated by the OECD aims only to create a space for discussions with society: no sanctions can be decided upon at its conclusion.
“I have a lot of hope for commercial rules,” maintains Dominique Potier, PS deputy at the origin of the referral, referring to the French law on the duty of vigilance of which he was the co-rapporteur in 2017. “But the path of dialogue, although insufficient, is not useless. It is an additional lever which aims to fuel the debate on the marketing of Shein products, to listen to the arguments of the brand and to put – finally – a face on this company…”
Until now, the brand has remained very opaque about any information concerning it: supply chains, names of subcontractors, company figures, safety standards, etc. It has nevertheless agreed to participate in the OECD procedure. Its directors have already responded to requests from the National Contact Point and will meet Dominique Potier and his counterpart Boris Vallaud in the coming months.
“By responding, Shein shows that it understood that we were not just enslaved consumers, and that what it was accused of could tarnish its reputation,” continues Dominique Potier. However, it is difficult to believe that these upcoming discussions will lead to a radical change in Shein’s economic model…
Finally, socialist elected officials hope that the procedure will fuel discussions around the European directive on the duty of vigilance, currently being developed. “It is an invitation to develop an ambitious law,” concludes Dominique Potier, “that France must defend at all costs. »