Fast fashion company Shein has denied accusations that factory workers are leaving concerning messages on clothing tags.
The Chinese retailer has recently been at the centre of an online conspiracy theory, after a viral TikTok video claimed to show different messages written or stitched onto labels of Shein clothing tags.
The speculation kicked off last May, when a video posted to TikTok compiled images of some of these messages, some which read, “Help Me,” “SOS,” and “I have dental pain”. While it was unclear if these notes were specifically made by Shein workers, the video still received more than 40 million views on the app, prompting users to inspect their own Shein labels in case of a hidden message stitched into their shirt.
There were reportedly no cries for help tucked into clothing packages, some people did share pictures of a care tag that read, “Tumble dry, do not dry clean. Due to the water saving technology, need your help washing with the soft detergent at the first time to make the goods softer.”
But according to Snopes, the phrasing of “need your help” is just an awkwardly worded translation of washing instructions for the garment.
Since its founding in 2008, the Guangzhou-based company has become well-known for its inexpensive and abundant clothing options. At $100bn, the fast fashion retailer is now one of the most valuable companies in the world, and worth more than fashion giants Zara and H&M.
Shein has received a firestorm of backlash in recent years, with the brand specifically facing allegations of child labour and worker exploitation. In July 2021, Reuters reported that Shein had not made public disclosures about working conditions along its supply chain, despite it being required by law in the United Kingdom. In November of that year, a Swiss advocacy group found that a number of staffers, mainly migrants, in Guangzhou were working 75-hour weeks.
Now, the company has fired back at the accusations, and it brought the receipts. On 1 June, Shein responded to the wide-ranging conspiracy theory in a video posted to TikTok, arguing that the pictures of tags shared in the original viral video were actually from other companies.
One of the notes, which read “Help me plz” handwritten on a cardboard slip, was actually from a package a woman received from the Philippines in 2015. Another picture of a “Help Me” message was actually taken from a stock photo website. And Shein confirmed that the “Need your help” care tag was just a poorly worded label asking customers to help keep the fabric soft by using a softer detergent.
“Recently, several videos were posted on TikTok that contain misleading and false information about SHEIN. We want to make it very clear that we take supply chain matters seriously,” the fast fashion brand captioned the video. “Our strict Code of Conduct prohibits suppliers from using child or forced labor and we do not tolerate non-compliance.”
The Independent has contacted Shein for comment.