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French watchdog opens investigation into Shein

By Julia Garel


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Interior of Shein office. Credits: Shein.

On 14 November, the French Ministry of the Economy announced the opening of a procedure concerning the activities of Shein, a multinational clothing company of Chinese origin. The action is aimed at examining compliance with international rules and French laws, and follows a referral from the Socialist and Related Members of Parliament on 20 June 2023.

Five months after Dominique Potier (MP for France's Meurthe-et-Moselle department) and Boris Vallaud (MP for Landes) referred the matter to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), the OECD's National Contact Point (NCP) issued a positive opinion to verify that Shein complies with the "Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises", which were updated last June.

According to the Parti Socialiste press release, the data concerning Shein (gathered through surveys and research carried out by NGOs, associations, journalists and elected politicians) indicates that the manufacture and supply chain of products marketed by the company in France do not respect human rights, the environment or the interests of consumers.

The Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

The "Guiding Principles" were created in 1976 and have since been regularly updated. Among their objectives, the "Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises" aim to increase the contribution of enterprises to sustainable development objectives, to respect human rights and to improve transparency with regard to privacy and data protection standards. Apart from certain points that may be regulated by national law or international commitments, companies' compliance with these principles is voluntary and not legally binding.

In addition to its "guiding principles", the proceedings against Shein also involve an analysis in the light of the Duty of Vigilance Act 2017. This requires companies to adopt instruments capable of preventing risks of human rights and environmental abuses arising from the activities of the companies that give them orders and those of the suppliers making up their supply chain.

According to the press release issued by France's National Contact Point on 18 October, the next steps will involve hearing the parties separately. The NCP "will offer to bring them together at a later date in a format to be defined to examine the outlines and feasibility of mediation".

On Tuesday evening, Shein responded by emailing FashionUnited with the following statement from a spokesperson for the brand: "Shein responded quickly and met with the NCP when we were approached in July. We have cooperated and will continue to cooperate fully to answer any questions the NCP may have."

In France, the Singapore-based ultra fast fashion company has been the subject of a petition (launched in April 2023) aimed at curbing its rollout in the country. To date, the document has collected 49,538 signatures.