Chinese Fast Fashion Giant’s Dominance Blighted by Slavery Allegations

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Each month, over 2 million Australian customers visit Temu and Shein for their ultra fast fashion needs.

Giant Chinese e-commerce retailers like Temu and Shein have joined Aliexpress in invading the wallets of Australian and New Zealand shoppers seduced by low prices and quick delivery.

One retailer, Temu, is run by Chinese-owned PDD Holdings, which operates the Pinduoduo brand, and reportedly generated $2.44 trillion yuan (AU$506 billion) in gross merchandise during the height of the pandemic in 2021.

Research company Roy Morgan reported over 1.26 million Australian shoppers visited Temu each month from July to December 2023, amounting to annual sales of $1.34 billion.

While Shein has amassed over 800,000 shoppers each month for items such as clothing and accessories.

Despite sourcing from China, Temu maintains offices in the United States and, over the past 12 months, has expanded into Western countries, offering apparent bargain basement deals on everything from clothing to electronics utilising a direct manufacturer-to-consumer model.

Antipodean online shoppers have been bombarded by pop-up ads on Google searches, YouTube, and other social media.

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The ads often invoke the idea that the customer is winning something via a casino-like spinning wheel, promising huge discounts on signing up.

Temu has also strengthened its presence by sponsoring locally-based sports, including being a principal sponsor of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which, along with being New Zealand’s most-watched sport, registered 1.33 billion viewing hours globally.

By saturating the market, Temu plans to change customer behaviour, forcing them away from traditional (often locally-based) retailers, to buying from factories pumping out cheap, often generic versions of everyday items.

Product reviews vary, with some shoppers maintaining they receive good-functioning commodities, while others bemoan the use of cheap parts and poorly constructed items.

This photo taken on November 9, 2017 shows employees sorting packages ahead of the Singles' Day online shopping spree, in Huaibei City, Anhui Province in eastern China.<br/>(STR/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo taken on November 9, 2017 shows employees sorting packages ahead of the Singles’ Day online shopping spree, in Huaibei City, Anhui Province in eastern China.
(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Are Goods Produced From Forced Labour? 

Questions have surfaced internationally over the past year around whether the cheap prices offered by Temu are the result of forced labour across some of the brand’s supply chain of 80,000 manufacturers.

The U.S. House Select Committee on the Chinese Community Party produced a report in September 2023 that warned Temu’s compliance with fair trade and manufacturing principles may be a charade.

The report detailed that suppliers must sign and adhere to a code of conduct with PDD Holdings/Temu that prevents worker exploitation; however, a loophole allows Temu to keep potentially nefarious suppliers at arm’s length.

However, Temu does not have any system to ensure compliance with the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), set up to eliminate forced labour among China’s minority Muslim population.

The UFLPA has the goal of ensuring American entities are not funding forced labour in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

This all but guarantees that shipments from Temu, containing products made with forced labour, are entering the United States regularly, said the report.

Responding to a post-report inquiry from the BBC in late 2023, Temu said it prohibits forced, penal, or child labour and that “anyone doing business with it must comply with all regulatory standards and compliance requirements.”

However, to some, Temu is blurring the ethical line around consumerism. The Epoch Times spoke with two recent Temu customers in New Zealand.

Janene, a mother of two from Auckland, said she relies on Temu when buying items for her children “because it’s cheap and arrives quickly. The postage is almost non-existent if order enough items.”

When pressed on whether the allegations of slavery affected her buying choices, she said: “I guess I never really think about it, you know, out of sight, out of mind.”

Nadine, a student, said she occasionally buys electronic devices like dental hygiene equipment and LED lights for her flat from Temu.

Her opinion on buying from suppliers who may mistreat their workers was, “If that can be proven then it would probably change from where it bought things from in future. Money isn’t everything, and if I can buy something online with a clear conscious. I would do that.”

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