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Barry Andrews SHEIN is setting up a headquarters in Ireland - this should not be applauded

The MEP looks at the controversial brand and says fast fashion cannot be encouraged on any level in a climate crisis.

WITH A REPORTED 6,000 new styles published on its website a day, SHEIN, the online Chinese retailer, is at the epicentre of the ‘ultra-fast fashion’ sector that is cannibalising the world. It scores in the very bottom percentile on the Fashion Transparency Index in 2022 and has a one out of five-star rating on the Good on You Directory.

SHEIN is facing serious human-rights allegations of sourcing Uighur-produced cotton, effectively using modern slavery and forced labour to produce their clothes at such a cheap cost as well as other allegations.

This week, it has announced Dublin as its new European, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) headquarters with the creation of 30 new jobs and is opening a pop-up shop in Cork in the coming days. While investment into Dublin and Ireland as well as job creation is usually something to applaud, when it comes to SHEIN, we must ask ourselves: at what cost?

Controversial brand

For those who may be wondering who or what SHEIN is, it is important to note that its meteoric rise in the past few years is also part of the story. SHEIN, founded in 2008, is a Chinese-born company with nearly 10,000 employees and is currently headquartered in Singapore.

It has grown rapidly in recent years and currently holds the largest market share in the US fast-fashion industry.

There were 200m downloads of the SHEIN app in 2022 and its valuation is somewhere around $60 billion, down from over $100+ billion last year. It has collaborated with social media influencers and celebrities and has made use of TikTok and Instagram to push its clothes to a younger audience.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney meets with Shein leaders as it launched its EMEA HQ in Dublin this week. Pic shows ( l to r ) Shiwei Yu, Country Manager Ireland Cui He, Director for Europe, Shein Leonard Lin, Global Head of Government Relations, Shein. MAXWELLS DUBLIN MAXWELLS DUBLIN

Its roaring success has started to draw attention in a number of different jurisdictions. US lawmakers have called for further scrutiny of its unfair labour practices and allegations of copyright infringements.

In a letter to the US Standards and Exchange Commission in early May, a bipartisan group called on the regulator to investigate SHEIN for potentially using Uighur-produced cotton alleging that the company has benefitted from slave labour.

It is also accused of intellectual property infringements and is facing numerous lawsuits from a variety of plaintiffs, both big and small. SHEIN has previously had to remove content promoting the company’s sustainability on its website after it was criticised as being incorrect.

In addition, there have been a number of concerns raised about the working conditions in its suppliers’ factories, with reports of workers being forced to work 75-hour weeks with minimal labour rights and safety standards.

Economic impacts

As a co-negotiator for the EU’s proposed Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence as well as the EU’s Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles, I have seen the effect that SHEIN is having on our economy.

In years gone by, there used to be two fashion seasons a year: summer and winter. With SHEIN and the advent of ultra-fast fashion, there are now 52 seasons a year. This method of overproduction leads to unsustainable waste, the destruction of our environment and the inability of Irish and European companies to compete.

The EU, through various pieces of legislation, is attempting to force companies of a certain size to ensure respect for human rights and the environment throughout its supply chains and in addition, to ensure that any products made with forced labour anywhere in the world cannot enter our single market.

This should be welcomed by all. We cannot and should not have products entering our market that were made through modern slavery or forced labour. I firmly believe that the Government should insist that SHEIN explain their business model and ensure that consumers have more transparency about what they are buying. Human rights and environmental abuses should not be allowed in our shopping baskets.

Barry Andrews is MEP for Dublin and co-negotiator of the EU’s proposed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive.

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