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Shein Refutes TikTok Conspiracy Theory

Shein has an update on a TikTok conspiracy theory that its workers are slipping coded pleas for help in its product labels.

“Our intention was to remind customers to help soften this fabric by using a softener when washing the garment for the first time,” the Chinese fast-fashion e-tailer posted on the social media site Wednesday. “The fabric is digitally printed, a process which reduces the use of water, as opposed to traditional, water-intensive textile printing. However, some misunderstanding may have been caused by the label’s wording.”

The “fake news” percolated earlier this month after several TikTokers claimed they found messages from workers begging for assistance. Chief among them was a label that read, “Do not dry clean due to water-saving technology, need your help washing with the soft detergent the first time.”

Shein also took to TikTok when the allegations first arose to debunk supposed messages such as receipts and packaging labels that said, “help me.” These were images taken from stories about other brands, it said. Snopes, a popular misinformation-busting site, also came out in support of Shein, saying that none of the labels implicated the company. It connected a note reading SOS to a 2014 BBC story about Primark. A label that said, “I have dental pain” has been online since 2016 and turns up occasionally as an example of a “funny” clothing tag.

Recently valued at $100 billion, Shein has faced more substantial accusations of labor exploitation before. A November investigation by Swiss watchdog group Public Eye found that workers who make clothes for America’s most downloaded shopping app toil 11 to 12 hours every day—or 75 hours per week—with only one day off each month. At “Shein Village,” a hub in Guangzhou that pumps out clothing almost “exclusively” for Shein, one researcher spotted barred windows, blocked stairways and no emergency exits. “I don’t want to think about what would happen if a fire broke out there,” she said.

In Shein’s own CSR report, published in April, TikTok’s most-talked-about brand admitted that 27 percent of its audited factories are ill-equipped for a potential fire. Roughly 12 percent of the audited suppliers were labeled as ZTV, or Zero Tolerance Violations, meaning they required immediate corrective action.

“Shein fails to understand that its ultra-fast fashion model is exactly what is putting [its] workforce at risk if [it doesn’t] put the systems in place to protect these women and men,” Elizabeth Cline, director of advocacy and policy at fashion sustainability nonprofit Remake, previously told Sourcing Journal. “Instead [it says]…that [its] suppliers being responsive to supply [and] demand makes [it] better able to ‘maximize efficiency’ as if this is a positive. Maximum efficiency, the kind we see in fast-fashion factories, is often just another way to describe driving workers harder and longer.”

In its TikTok video, Shein said it wanted to make clear that it has a strict code of conduct for suppliers. This “forbids them to use forced labor,” it said. “We want to be honest with our consumers, and we thank our customers for their feedback and support.”

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