Chinese fashion giant Shein hit with copyright infringement lawsuit amid allegations of unethical labor practices

News analysis

Shein, China’s super-fast fashion online store and the most downloaded shopping app in the United States, faces a new lawsuit amid criticism for poor treatment alleged of its workers.

On June 15, Magdalena Mollmann, a Florida-based artist known professionally as Maggie Stephenson, filed a lawsuit for over $100 million in copyright infringement damages against Shein’s parent company, Zoetop Business, based in Hong Kong, and the company based in Los Angeles. Shein Distribution Corporation.

As of 2018, Shein (pronounced She-in) has been sued for design theft involving artists and big-name brands such as Los Angeles-based indie brand Valfré and Levi Strauss.

The success of the fast-growing e-commerce platform is due to its rapid production, but its working practices have recently caught the eye. Shein is facing criticism for allegedly poor working conditions at its workshops in China.

The path to high-speed fashion

Shein has seen astronomical growth since 2015, earning an estimated 177.5 million app downloads worldwide in 2021, according to Statista’s report.

The company earned the nickname “Instant Fashion” for its rapid production. It contracts with manufacturers and small and medium-sized stores in China and mainly caters to young women under the age of 25 all over the world.

According to the company’s 2021 report, Shein works with 6,000 on-demand vendors.

Shein Distribution Corp. offers “over 6,000 new fashion, beauty and lifestyle products daily with over 600,000 items available,” the company said on its official platform.

According to Chinese sources, Shein has shortened a production process from three weeks to three days, from initial proofing and design to sourcing, production and final market of new products, allowing their consumers to receive orders within a week.

There is little public information about the company and its founder, even in Chinese media.

The founder, Chris Xu, started as an e-tailer of wedding dresses with a platform, SheInside.com, in 2008. In 2012, the company changed its name to Shein. Xu and his associates kept a low profile.

However, the company’s success has come under scrutiny.

Over the past three years, Shein or Zoetop have been involved in at least 50 federal lawsuits in the United States alleging trademark or copyright infringement, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Although its success was the result of China’s logistics market, warehouse automation, online influencers and very low prices, the negative side of the operation received little mainstream media attention. audience.

Employees make down coats at a factory of Chinese clothing company Bosideng in Nantong, eastern China’s Jiangsu province, on September 24, 2019. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Unethical work practices

The company’s rapid production came under scrutiny when a TikTok user uploaded a video in May exposing unethical work practices.

The video shows various Shein products being shipped to consumers that contained notes from workers, asking for help and raising awareness of their plight.

A note (originally written in Chinese and translated into English) reads: “SOS! SOS! SOS! We are prisoners in Xiangnan Prison, Hubei Province, China. We have been producing clothes for export for a long time. We work 15 hours a day and eat food inferior to what pigs and dogs would eat.We call on the international community to condemn the Chinese government for its violation of human rights.

Shein denied the allegations and posted a statement on TikTok: “We want to make it very clear that we take supply chain issues seriously. Our strict code of conduct prohibits suppliers from using child labor or forced labor and we do not tolerate non-compliance.

However, a Zurich-based non-governmental organization exposed Shein’s alleged labor law violations.

In the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, “thousands of Chinese workers spend up to 12 hours a day sewing fabrics to fulfill teenage dreams,” Public Eye reported in November 2021.

In addition, in the so-called “Shein Village” near Shein’s headquarters in Panyu, a district of Guangzhou, employees usually worked overtime – in some cases, “more than 75 hours of work per week”, says The report.

According to Article 36 of Chinese labor law, a working week cannot exceed 44 hours.

Shein denied Public Eye’s allegations with the following statement: “Our clients are responsible for the operations of their business in their leased premises on our property. Regarding the concern you raised, we have no knowledge of non-compliance. »

The Epoch Times reached out to Shein for comment on its work practices. The company did not respond at press time.

Mary Hong

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Mary Hong has been a contributor to The Epoch Times since 2020. She has reported on human rights issues and Chinese politics.

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