Tough times for Chinese ultra fast fashion giant Shein - first it was plagued by accusations of plagiarism and then a British documentary found that workers in some Shein factories in China are paid the equivalent of only three cents per garment and have to work 18-hour shifts. Now it's about the clothes themselves - Greenpeace Germany tested some of them and found that there are often dangerous chemicals in the clothes sold by Shein.
To prove this, Greenpeace Germany bought 47 garments from the Shein plattform, which were examined in an independent laboratory for pollutant analysis. It found phthalate levels of over 100,000 milligrams per kilogram in five boots and shoes respectively; the European Chemicals Regulation (REACH) limit is 1,000 milligrams per kilogram. The highest phthalate value was measured in black snow boots and, at 685,000 milligrams per kilogram, is even 685 times the legal limit.
One third of the tested articles is problematic
Overall, the product tests found hazardous chemicals exceeding REACH limits in 7 of the items tested, which is 15 percent; hazardous chemicals were found “at levels of concern" in a total of 32 percent or 15 products. Shein claims to have since removed these products and launched an investigation (see statement below).
Since Shein sells directly online via its app and social media, many transactions bypass the authorities. Greenpeace is therefore calling for better controls and more far-reaching guidelines: “The EU must enforce its laws to protect the environment and consumers for online retailers as well and tighten REACH significantly,” demands Viola Wohlgemuth, resource protection expert at Greenpeace, in a press release.
“Chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic when worn in Germany or elsewhere are even more so dangerous for the workers in Shein's factories in China. Dangerous chemicals must be banned by law from all textile production,” adds Wohlgemuth.
Problem ultra fast fashion
The problem goes back to the ultra fast fashion model that Shein operates on: Every day, the online retailer offers up to 6,000 new designs online. In comparison: competitor H&M only managed about 1.4 per cent of the volume in the USA in a comparable period of four months and Shein produces about three times as fast as fast fashion pioneer Zara - namely within three to seven days.
“This new ultra fast fashion business model takes overconsumption and waste of resources to the extreme. This creates a huge amount of environmentally damaging textile waste in the Global South, in addition to environmental damage in the producing countries,” says Greenpeace.
“Fast fashion is already completely incompatible with a climate-friendly future; the new trend of ultra fast fashion is fuelling climate crisis and nature destruction so aggressively that it must be stopped immediately by legislation,” concludes Wohlgemuth.
When asked by FashionUnited about the allegations, Shein responded with a (rather general) statement: “Shein takes product safety very seriously. Our suppliers are required to comply with the controls and standards we have put in place, including chemical controls lists and standards which are aligned to Europe’s REACH, as well as CPSIA, CPSA and CA65 from the US, amongst other regulations.”
“We work closely with international third-party testing agencies such as Intertek, SGS, BV and TUV, to regularly carry out testing to ensure suppliers' compliance to our product safety standards. In the past year, we have conducted more than 300,000 chemical safety tests with these agencies,” adds Shein.
“Upon learning of any claim against our products, we immediately remove the product(s) from our site as a matter of caution whilst conducting our investigations. If non-compliance is verified, we will not hesitate to take appropriate follow-up action with the supplier of said product. We can also confirm, based on the information available through the social media account of Greenpeace, that we have immediately removed the products mentioned pending investigation. Shein is dedicated to always providing consumers with safe and reliable products,” ends the statement.