The implications of France's measures against Shein and Temu for the worldwide ultra-fast fashion industry

France's legislation targeting fast fashion giants aims to address concerns that these retail powerhouses are harming the environment, negatively impacting the economy, and encouraging impulsive shopping habits.

According to the BBCFrance's lower house of parliament unanimously approved a "kill bill" on March 14 that targets fast fashion and ultra-fast fashion sold by online retail giants such as Shein and Temu. The measure is a move to offset the fast fashion industry's environmental impact by banning the advertising of certain ultra-fast fashion companies and penalising them with annually increasing increments of up to 10 euros (£8.54 or $10.92) per article of clothing by 2030. The bill would also mandate that fast fashion retailers include an item's reuse, repair, recycling, and environmental impact near the product's price.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion refers to clothing that is quickly made to mimic current fashion trends. It's often cheaply made and sold at very low prices. This allows people on a budget to keep up with the latest styles without spending much money. However, there are hidden costs associated with fast fashion. The workers who make these clothes are often paid very low wages and work in poor conditions. Additionally, the production of fast fashion contributes to environmental problems like pollution and waste. So, while fast fashion may seem like a good deal for shoppers, it comes at a cost to both people and the planet.

"It's important when the price conversation comes up for people to realize that the price of fast fashion is being kept artificially low," said Emily Stochl, the vice president of advocacy and community engagement at Remake, a sustainable fashion nonprofit organisation. 

Shein, Temu and the impact of new policies

Shein, a fast fashion behemoth founded in China and headquartered in Singapore, argued in a statement to the BBC that the bill's impact will "worsen the purchasing power of French consumers at a time when they are already feeling the impact of the cost-of-living crisis." 

Temu, a Chinese-owned e-commerce company, has been widely criticised by politicians in the UK and US alike, and in 2023, a US government investigation warned of an "extremely high risk that Temu's supply chains are contaminated with forced labor." 

Temu says it "strictly prohibits" the use of forced, penal, or child labour by any of its merchants. 

In 2021, a report by Swiss advocacy group Public Eye found that a number of Shein employees across six sites in Guangzhou were found to be working 75-hour weeks. And in 2023, a group of US lawmakers called for Shein to be investigated over claims that forced labour of the Uyghur people—a Turkic ethnic group within China—is used to manufacture some of the clothes the brand sells. Shein told the BBC that it has "zero tolerance" for forced labour.

A spokesperson for Temu told the BBC that the brand "acknowledges the important environmental concerns addressed by the proposed French legislation" and argued that they do not operate as a fast fashion company because they are a marketplace and do not manufacture their own products.

Both Temu and Shein separately tell the BBC that their on-demand business models reduce waste compared with traditional business models. Emily St. Martin is a correspondent for BBC News. 

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