Ethical Consumer has warned that young people are being misled by the ‘patently false’ environmental and animal-friendly claims of a new wave of emerging fast-fashion online stores.
In its biennial High Street Clothing guide, the consumer watchdog investigated, scored and ranked the ethical credentials of over 40 mainstream fashion brands.
Criteria included animal rights policies, pollution and toxics, climate change impact, supply chain practices, workers’ rights and tax conduct.
Researchers said new-generation fast-fashion brands, targeted primarily at Gen Z, were pushing fashion ‘faster’, while making unsubstantiated greenwashed claims to encourage them to buy ‘extremely cheap’ clothes.
One example is SHEIN, the most talked about brand on TikTok and YouTube in 2020.
Researchers added the effect of this was to ‘exploit the good intentions’ of Gen Z, who cite climate change and protecting the environment as their No. 1 concern in a recent survey from Deloitte.
The impact of these new market players risks ‘undoing years of work’ by more established retailers to improve their environmental impact and increase transparency on ethical practices including supply chain and worker’s rights.
Researchers found SHEIN’s ‘strictly no animal’ policy to be ‘misleading’, and concluded there was a ‘lack of effort’ across the board on ethical transparency.
SHEIN boasts a ‘strictly no animal’ policy on its website. While it may not appear to use real leather or fur, researchers found items made from down, silk and wool, with no accompanying policies in relation to the sourcing of these materials.
SHEIN received Ethical Consumer’s ‘Worst’ rating for almost every applicable category: supply chain management, human rights, animal rights, climate change and pollution and toxics.
The company has almost nothing on its website about upholding workers’ rights in its supply chain, bar statements such as ‘We never. EVER. engage in child or forced labor’. Without defining the age of the child, this kind of statement is meaningless.
Brands that received Ethical Consumer’s ‘Worst’ rating for Animal Rights include Boohoo, SHEIN, Missguided, Pretty Little Thing and Nasty Gal.
‘Young people do not know a life without fast fashion, and it’s extremely concerning to see companies such as SHEIN, which at the time of writing has an astounding 21,139 ‘daily new’ products – targeting them on this scale and with very little detail available on its ethical practices and environmental impact. To be targeted in this way with the sheer volume of cheap goods flies in the face of progress.
‘What’s more, we know today’s young people are the most environmentally-conscious to date. SHEIN’s ‘strictly no animal’ policy, which the brand boasts on its website, was found to be patently false as we discovered numerous animal-derived products sold on its site – clearly showing the brand intends to exploit Gen Z’s good intentions.
‘For anyone looking to reduce the environmental impact of their clothing, our advice remains the same: as Greta said recently, buy secondhand. If you do need new clothes, look at our guide to ethical clothing for our Best Buys.’
Researcher, Ethical Consumer
The researchers found Boohoo Group PLC’s environmental policies to be ‘wholly inadequate’.
Boohoo Group PLC received Ethical Consumer’s ‘Worst’ environmental reporting rating as its Boohoo Sustainability Group Plan 2021 was found to be missing quantified and dated future targets for impact reduction. There was no evidence of independent verification of data or reporting.
Synthetic fake leather and wool ‘greenwashing’ attempts to assuage consumers’ guilt are adding to environmental damage, the watchdog said.
Most fast-fashion companies have replaced leather and wool animal items with synthetic alternatives marketed as ‘faux leather’ and ‘wool look’, using materials which are environmentally damaging to produce and difficult to dispose of.
The sector is also awash with plastics; fabrics such as acrylic, elastane, nylon and polyester are all made using fossil fuels. Companies that received the ‘Worst’ rating for pollution and toxics include Boohoo, I Saw it First, In the Style, Missguided, QUIZ and SHEIN.
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