‘Send help’ in clothing labels: is Shein to blame?

A quick look into the supplier code of conduct of Shein

Now that autumn is there, a new sweater seems to be needed in every wardrobe. A simple Google search will lead you to thousands of websites, but Shein seems to be popping up very often. Shein is an online fashion company founded in 2012 and according to Euromonitor, one of the internet's largest fashion stores. In competing with other companies, it is well known for its social media strategies and cheap prices. But how fair are these cheap prices?

At the end of May 2022, several TikTok videos showed Shein labels with additional texts like ‘send help’, ‘I have dental pain’ or ‘SOS’. These notes were supposed to be added by children working in factories for Shein. The videos went viral, as this clearly suggested the occurrence of child labour within Shein’s supply chain. Shein reacted to this video with its own Tiktok, stating that all of this would be fake news. None of the labels shows a clear attachment to a certain clothing brand. Shein furthermore emphasizes the importance of the policies against child labour and forced labour, referring to their Supplier Code of Conduct.

The Supplier code cannot be found directly via its website, but when googling it, you are directed to the US-site where Shein elaborates on their policy in twelve brief points. Elimination of child labour and forced labour are written down explicitly, with a direct hyperlink to the relevant ILO  conventions. Despite these intentions, the Supplier Code of Conduct does not have a strict compliance mechanism. In the last paragraph, Shein mentions that when a supplier violates the code of conduct, Shein “has the right but not the obligation to negotiate remediation plan with the supplier plan”.  Shein here seems to be applying the head-in-the-sand technique. Neither a clear due diligence report, nor a transparent report of the work environment can be found. 

Even though the truth behind the clothing labels remains questionable, we can conclude from this without a doubt that a Supplier Code of Conduct alone is not sufficient to ensure that clothing is free from child labour. If you want to be sure of sustainable clothing, limit your purchasing behavior to sustainable brands. To help you do this, Fair Wear offers a list of 148 brands which are reviewed on their implementation of the code of conduct. Hopefully, in this way, we will only find washing instructions in clothing labels.


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