Tough times for Chinese super-fast fashion giant Shein – first it was plagued by accusations of plagiarism, then a British documentary revealed that workers at some Shein factories in China are paid the equivalent of only three hundred per garment and must work 18-hour shifts. Now it’s about the clothes themselves – Greenpeace Germany tested some of them and found that there were often dangerous chemicals in the clothes sold by Shein.
To prove this, Greenpeace Germany purchased 47 garments from the Shein platform, which were examined in an independent laboratory for the analysis of pollutants. 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.
A third of the articles tested are problematic
Overall, product testing found hazardous chemicals exceeding REACH limits in 7 of the items tested, or 15%; hazardous chemicals were found “at levels of concern” in a total of 32% or 15 products. Shein says it has since removed those products and launched an investigation (see statement below).
Since Shein sells directly online through its app and social media, many transactions bypass authorities. Greenpeace therefore calls for better controls and more ambitious guidelines: “The EU must enforce its laws to protect the environment and consumers for online retailers as well and significantly strengthen REACH”, asks Viola Wohlgemuth, expert in resource protection at Greenpeace, in a press release.
“Chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic when worn in Germany or elsewhere are even more dangerous for workers at Shein factories in China. Hazardous chemicals must be banned by law from all textile production,” Wohlgemuth adds.
Super fast mode problem
The problem goes back to the super fast fashion model on which Shein operates: every day, the online retailer offers up to 6,000 new models online. By comparison: competitor H&M only handled about 1.4% of volume in the United States over a comparable four-month period and Shein produces about three times as fast as fast fashion pioneer Zara. i.e. in three to seven days.
“This new ultra-fast fashion business model pushes the overconsumption and waste of resources to the extreme. This creates a huge amount of environmentally damaging textile waste in southern countries, in addition to environmental damage in producing countries,” says Greenpeace.
“Fast fashion is already completely incompatible with a climate-friendly future; the new trend of ultra-fast fashion is fueling the climate crisis and the destruction of nature so aggressively that it must be stopped immediately by legislation,” concludes Wohlgemuth.
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 in place, including chemical control lists and standards aligned with REACH in Europe, as well as CPSIA, CPSA and CA65 in the United States, between other regulations.
“We work closely with international third-party testing agencies such as Intertek, SGS, BV and TUV, to perform regular testing to ensure supplier compliance with our product safety standards. In the past year, we have performed over 300,000 chemical safety tests with these agencies,” adds Shein.
“Upon becoming aware of any complaint against our products, we immediately remove the product(s) from our site as a precaution while conducting our investigations. If any non-compliance is found, we will not hesitate to carry out the appropriate follow-ups from the supplier of said product. We can also confirm, based on the information available via the Greenpeace social media account, that we have immediately removed the mentioned products pending an investigation. Shein is committed to always providing consumers safe and reliable products,” the statement concludes.