Hamburg, Germany – The ultra-fast-fashion brand SHEIN has a business model based on hazardous chemicals and environmental destruction, according to a new Greenpeace Germany report. Product tests on 47 SHEIN products found that seven of them (15%), contained hazardous chemicals that break EU regulatory limits, with five of these products breaking the limits by 100% or more, while according to the tests a total of 15 of the products contain hazardous chemicals at levels of concern (32%).
Greenpeace Germany bought 42 items, including garments and footwear for men, women, children and infants, from SHEIN websites in Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland, and five items from a pop-up store in Munich, Germany. The products were sent to independent laboratory BUI for chemical analysis. The findings – which include very high levels of phthalates in shoes and formaldehyde in a baby girl’s dress – prove, according to Greenpeace Germany, SHEIN’s careless attitude towards environmental and human health risks associated with the use of hazardous chemicals, in pursuit of profit. Even worse, the report finds that the company, which is headquartered in Nanjing, China, is breaking EU environmental regulations on chemicals and risking the health of consumers and the workers at the suppliers that make the products.
Viola Wohlgemuth, Toxics and Circular economy Campaigner with Greenpeace Germany said:
“Greenpeace Germany’s findings show that the use of hazardous chemicals underpins SHEIN’s ultra fast fashion business model, which is the opposite of being future-proof. SHEIN products containing hazardous chemicals are flooding European markets and breaking regulations – which are not being enforced by the authorities. But it’s the workers in SHEIN’s suppliers, the people in surrounding communities and the environment in China that bear the brunt of SHEIN’s hazardous chemical addiction. At its core, the linear business model of fast fashion is totally incompatible with a climate-friendly future – but the emergence of ultra fast fashion is further accelerating the climate and environmental catastrophe and must be stopped in its tracks through binding legislation. Alternatives to buying new must become the new norm.”
In the last couple of years SHEIN has grown exponentially through marketing thousands of new designs every day to young people and even children via social media, and then producing them in under a week in a network of up to thousands of suppliers in China, even undercutting its competitors with the speed of its production and with its ultra cheap, low quality and disposable products. Its new ultra fast fashion business model takes the extremes of overconsumption even further in its creation of textile waste, and frequent reports of exploitation of workers and the environment in its supply chain.
EU regulations on hazardous chemicals in imported products set strict concentration limits under the REACH Regulation for a range of hazardous substances in clothing, accessories and shoes sold in Europe. A loophole which excluded imported products from these requirements was closed after evidence from Greenpeace’s Detox My Fashion campaign showed how the use of hazardous chemicals by textiles suppliers in Global South countries was also leading to water pollution in the EU. Hazardous chemicals in clothes are also a major barrier to textiles recycling.
“Greenpeace is calling for the EU to enforce its laws on hazardous chemicals – which are a basic requirement for achieving a circular textiles economy and the end of fast fashion, as set out in the EU’s own Textiles Strategy.” said Wohlgemuth. “But the EU’s proposals also need to take on the inhuman system of exploitation and destruction by ultra fast fashion that should have no place in any industry in the 21st century, by holding companies fully responsible for environmental and social exploitation in their supply chains and the impacts from fashion waste. This also needs to be urgently addressed through a global treaty, similar to the recently agreed UNEA plastics treaty that is currently being discussed, to finally tackle the giant fashion footprint.” said Wohlgemuth.
The fast fashion business model is notorious for the huge volumes of oil-based clothes that are produced, the speed they are brought to market, and for stories of outsize environmental and social impacts. According to industry sources, less than 1% of textiles are made from old textiles, but every second a truckload of textiles ends up in landfills or is incinerated. The most visible of these problems is the vast quantity of polluting textile waste increasingly being shipped to East Africa and other Global South countries, as recently reported by Greenpeace Germany.
This latest evolution of fast fashion forces suppliers to deliver at breakneck speed, with orders repeatedly made three times as fast as its nearest rival Zara – and delivered direct to customers around the world by air freight. Greenpeace Germany says in their report that SHEIN’s business model relies on the lack of enforcement of regulations designed to protect the environment, and the health and safety of workers and consumers, as the company routinely violates regulations.
Photos available in the Greenpeace Media Library.
 Link to the report: Taking the Shine off SHEIN: A business model based on hazardous chemicals and environmental destruction
 For products sold in Europe, strict concentration limits are set under the REACH Regulation for a range of hazardous substances (whether present as additives or contaminants) in clothing textiles, accessories and shoes.
 1000s of new designs = “A total of 6,753 products were added on that day” (Public Eye) plus many other references, some as high as 10,000 a day (the Guardian)
 Greenpeace International Detox My Fashion campaign – See: Dirty Laundry 2: Hung Out to Dry, September 2011, and Dirty Laundry 3: Reloaded, March 2012
 Industry sources include: Less than 1% of textiles – Business of Fashion/McKinsey (2021), State of Fashion 2021, page 65; One garbage truck of textiles every second – Ellen McArthur Foundation (2017), A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, p 37
 Public Eye (2021), Toiling away for SHEIN; Zara (Inditex)
Viola Wohlgemuth, toxics and circular economy campaigner, Greenpeace Germany: +49 (0) 151 22 18 09 71, [email protected]
Anna Arbogast, press officer, Greenpeace Germany: +49 (0) 175 80 41 025, [email protected]
Greenpeace International Press Desk: +31 (0)20 718 2470 (available 24 hours), [email protected]
This reads more like a hit piece than scientific report. You are an enviormental group so focus on the chemical aspect and use a bigger sample size and compare to clothes from other brands either in this study or compere to other similar studies on clothes in the EU. And the images are not relevant to the pullution in this case. They are from other countries. And human rights discussions need proof and in deapth discussion, but that is not your focus either, you are an enviormental group.
Dear Marie, thank you for your comment. As we make clear in the introduction, this report is not a one-off “hit” but the most recent release from Greenpeace’s long and successful Detox My Fashion campaign, which targeted large brands from the fashion industry for polluting waterways with hazardous chemicals. Investigations and laboratory testing of wastewater discharges and products were a major part of the campaign and all the results are published in reports from 2011 onwards which can be found on Greenpeace’s Detox My Fashion campaign website (https://www.greenpeace.org/international/act/detox/), along with this latest investigation on SHEIN. The products were tested at a well-known laboratory that has expertise in product testing for chemicals in textiles and the detailed discussion of the results refers to Greenpeace’s previous work, especially on nonylphenol ethoxylates, where we note that the relatively lower levels in SHEIN products reflect a positive trend away from the use of these hazardous chemicals, due to EU regulation which came into force after Greenpeace exposed the problem. However, we were shocked to find high levels of other harmful chemicals in SHEIN products, even above the legal limits. Apart from the environmental impacts, the greatest direct impact of these chemicals on people will be on the workers that make the products, therefore it's important to discuss the question of working conditions. There cannot be environmental justice without human rights justice. Full details of investigations by organisations that work on these issues can be found in the references if you’re interested. The highly pressured work environment which they reveal also makes it more likely that suppliers will cut corners wherever possible, including on health, safety and environmental considerations. We would have loved to have included photographs of impacts on the environment from SHEIN suppliers but unfortunately as SHEIN refuses to publish details of its supply chain this was impossible. The photographs illustrate typical pollution problems from textiles manufacturing documented during our campaign as well as the material supply chain, especially petrochemicals, which are the source of all of the plastic-based materials used by SHEIN. Finally, Greenpeace’s Detox Campaign eventually resulted in a positive response from many clothing brands, with 80+ brands and companies committing to Detox their supply chains which are now successfully implementing Greenpeace’s recommendations to achieve zero discharges and end the use of hazardous chemicals. We are still waiting for SHEIN to join these leaders and take responsibility for its hazardous chemicals problem.
Shein has literally changed my life and I find it offensive that anyone and everyone decides to vilify the company Have you delved into Wish now that is a Chinese company worthy of vilification
What type of hazardous materials is in the clothing?
If you click on the first link under Notes, you can find the full study.