China is using fast fashion to tweak the genocide in the Uighurs

Taking advantage of its comparative advantage, the Chinese fashion industry has manipulated Arab influential people to buy and promote their products. Little is known that these products are often associated with Uighurs imprisoned in concentration camps.

Shiraz is Moroccan, Wafa is Lebanese, Leila is from Egypt, Abir is from Qatar, and Hiba is from the UAE.

Across the Arab world, these young business women share two common points: they gather millions of followers on Instagram and Tiktok and make a profit by sharing their recent fashion purchases in online fast fashion stores.

Among them, the Chinese e-commerce group Shein wins the hearts of young audiences thanks to its ultra-cheap prices, easy delivery terms and daily renewal of trendy clothing, accessories and cosmetics.

“In the Muslim-Arab world, Shein has developed clothing lines tailored to religious imperatives, including a corner dedicated to ‘Arab clothing’, including long skirts, baggy pants, kaftans, jalabiyas and abayas.”

Founded in 2008 by Sino-American CEO Chris Xua, the company reached its peak during the Covid era, with 24.6 million followers on its main Instagram account and 4.5 million followers on its in Arabic.

In 2021, the fast fashion retailer reached a turnover of 15 billion dollars Forbes and shipped to 150 countries.

Since its implementation in the Middle East in the last seven years, the brand has developed particularly well in two Arab countries; UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Member of the collective against violence against women beautiful banner with the inscription “Tommy Hilfiger accomplice in the genocide of the Uighurs” in Paris, France [Getty Images]

Shein has set a dramatically efficient business strategy: the multinational company has developed by attracting customers through social media platforms.

The brand actively collaborates with influencers who receive free items and financial compensation from the discount codes they share and download the videos they record.

Potential customers are also encouraged to watch live broadcasts and buy in real time. As a result, promotional codes and links encourage positive self-reflection, leaving customers satisfied with the good offers they make.

The company also knows how to adjust trends and fill gaps: it offers affordable copies of the designs of its main rivals, including Zara, as well as high fashion brands, allowing ambitious fashionistas with modest results to keep up with the times without breaking the bank.

In the Muslim-Arab world, Shein has developed clothing lines tailored to religious imperatives, including a corner dedicated to “Arab costume,” including long skirts, baggy pants, kaftans, jalabiyas, and abayas.

The brand continues to ride the wave of awareness and tolerance, promoting a “friendly Muslim” facade, despite the 2020 scandal when it was accused of religious appropriation by selling prayer rugs with Kaaba and Mihrab motifs in the “home decoration” section.

“Shops are also located near camps where Uighurs can be closed for up to several years.”

Under the same logic, the multinational company recently used the opportunity in the Ramadan season to get involved in a targeted campaign. As the website adapted to the holiday season, Muslim influencers also shared their iftar and Eid prospects, offering special discounts to their fans.

However, the market for influencers in the Arab world is diverse, and big influencers inspire less to enter the system. In countries facing economic struggles and high unemployment rates, the activity that can be done from home with a simple phone attracts the attention of many.

As Shein cooperates with shipping companies whose costs are expensive, young “wasiti” are developing their business by ordering products for local clients who do not have bank accounts.

In Tripoli, Nour, a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon, has gained a solid reputation word of mouth. She earns $ 1.5 for every order she makes: “Orders over $ 90 will take 15-20 days, while $ 140 orders will be there in 8 to 12 days, with no shipping costs!”

This occupation enables her to support her family in a country where Syrians are often exploited, work illegally and are exposed to threats in public places. For Nour, consumer dependence on new prospects and trends represents an opportunity to be financially stable.

However, this local economic system that brings temporary financial relief hides a terrible reality in terms of human rights and exploitation of workers.

For the author Black Book of Fashion, Dr Audrey Millet, Shein lacks transparency regarding its activities as the production chain is impossible to trace due to the dense network of small factories across China.

However, it is evident that the exploitation of people is at the heart of the company’s system of delivering items at such a low price and at such a pace.

In late 2020, the Public Eye report “Hard for Shein” explored the working conditions of small suppliers in South China: it highlighted strong security deficiencies, illegal working hours under Chinese law, high skill expectations, low wages and the absence of legal contracts.

Workers were also exposed to chemicals and harmful substances, which had serious consequences for their health, including allergies, dermatitis, but also infertility and even lung cancer.

The situation has taken an even more tragic turn since 2014, when the Chinese government decided to target the Uighurs, an indigenous Muslim community based in autonomous eastern Turkistan, “Xin Jiang” in Chinese, meaning “new colony”.

According to sociologist Dilnur Reyhan, director of the European Uyghur Institute, the widespread abuses that characterize Chinese President Xi Jinping’s colonial approach to her people are far worse than China’s policy of “eradicating culture” in Tibet.

According to her, genocidal practices called by 39 countries in the UN and recognized by close to 10 countries around the world enabled the election of the Chinese president in 2013, who traded in China’s “low profile” political tradition. implemented for 40 years for a strong China that regained its economic space through the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative and its power in the international arena.

An ASPI Uyghur for sale report describes the mass relocation of Uyghur workers to factories across China, under conditions that “strongly suggest forced labor.”

Sweatshops are also located near camps where Uighurs can be imprisoned for up to several years. Since 2019, repression has also affected Hui Chinese Muslims and Christians, whose mosques and churches are being destroyed while their faithful face arrests.

Dilnur emphasizes that Chinese companies cannot develop without cooperation with the regime: without his support, international ambitions are unthinkable.

As the cynicism of fast fashion companies is revealed through the tireless commitment of Uighur activists and local politicians in the West, she condemns the attitude of Muslim leaders not to call on China to stop all inhumane actions and calls for urgent solidarity with its people.

The new Arab approached Shein for comment, but we did not receive a response at the time of publication.

Elise Daniaud is a researcher and doctoral candidate specializing in Russian-Syrian relations, the Syrian conflict and political discourse analysis.

Naama al Alwani is a Paris-based journalist specializing in Syrian affairs, refugee rights and justice.

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