Shein is putting resources to its sustainability staffing, recently hiring a global ESG head — and it is still spurring reactions.
Earlier this month, the company hired Adam Whinston, a veteran in the ESG space counting 15 years of experience and previous stints at The Walt Disney Cos., Hewlett-Packard and J.C. Penney. Whinston will be based out of the company’s Los Angeles office.
Surpassing Amazon as the top fashion shopping app in the U.S., Shein is building out its U.S. team and taking up a firmer presence in light of recent controversy. Prior to Whinston’s hire, the company in October added Angela Tucciarone (previously of Kroll and PepsiCo), who is based in New York and oversees U.S. communications.
After a November report from corporate watchdog Public Eye revealed 75-hour work weeks and lack of employment contracts among suppliers, Shein swiftly denounced the conditions and launched its own investigation.
At the time, a spokesperson told WWD that “Shein takes all supply chain matters seriously. Upon learning of the report, we have repeatedly asked Public Eye for the list of specific factories and locations so we can launch a targeted investigation and take action if noncompliance is identified. We continue to await their response.”
The spokesperson added that Shein has launched its own investigation in the meantime, referencing the company’s “strict supplier Code of Conduct, which includes stringent health and safety policies and compliance with local laws.”
Shein was reached for comment regarding the hire, as well as for updates regarding the investigation, but said there were no further updates at this time.
Commenting on the move, Elizabeth Cline, director of advocacy and policy at industry watchdog Remake, said the hire is “disingenuous,” criticizing the moves of Whinston’s past employers. “Disney is a huge perpetrator of wage theft in fashion and actively lobbied against the Garment Worker Protection Act in California, [Disney is a member of the American Apparel and Footwear Association’s social responsibility committee] and J.C. Penney never paid their garment workers during the pandemic,” she said.
As referenced in the Remake accountability report, Shein earned a score of five out of a possible 150 points (with higher being better) for having “no sustainability or worker rights commitments to speak of,” per the assessment. Sustainability criteria spans labor, transparency and climate goals. The company scored higher than Amazon’s score of two as well as Forever 21 and Ross, which earned negative scores.
Cline summed it up as a “marketing game,” adding that “a company like Shein should not be allowed to make billions by breaking the law, committing wage theft, underpaying garment workers and then just undergo a makeover. We know from recent investigations Shein owes a huge debt to its garment makers, just to start.”
Social media reactions are still unfolding days later — with even podcasts in the mix.
“I’m not quite sure how he’s going to be able to change anything for the brand because a lot of the supply chain issues that are there depend on their business model and the other way around,” said fashion reporter Zofia Zwieglinska, in The Glossy Podcast, a fashion news recap. She said the latest appointments underpin the brand’s attempt to be more “visible” and “counteract” bad press. “This will definitely be an interesting turn,” she added.
“I do think it’s notable that…even they are aware that they need to make some sort of gesture towards [sustainability],” said podcast host and senior fashion reporter Danny Parisi. “If the pressure is there, and everybody knows that they should, I think that can translate to at least some people [willing] to make changes.”