Stitched in Controversy: Navigating the Ethical Threads of Fast Fashion Through Governance and Supply Chain Management

By ESG Analyst Sabah Sultan

SHEIN’s branded trip raises questions about manufacturing and supply chain management practices

SHEIN, one of the biggest online fast fashion retailers of today, invited influencers on a trip to their manufacturing sites in Guangzhou, China this past summer. The entire event has caused some uproar and raised questions once again regarding the ethical process of fast fashion clothing within their manufacturing and supply chain management practices.

This reality portrayed by the online apparel giant, however, opposes the reality exposed for years by various documentaries and articles. One example is The True Cost (2015), which was published regarding the poor labour conditions and the unethical practices prevalent throughout the fast fashion industry. Although Shein’s PR event has had a major negative response from the public, it begs the question of how retailers can ensure they uphold the best ethical conduct and fair labour practices within their supply chain management. 

A simple yet complex answer to this issue would be to establish supply chain governance in their supply chain management. Now let’s delve into what makes up governance in supply chain management. 

Governance in Supply Chain Management – What is it?

Governance within supply chain management refers to the set of policies, processes, and practices which guide and oversee the relationships and interactions among various stakeholders or parties involved in the supply chain. (Urszula Ryciuk, 2020) This involves strategic coordination, monitoring and control over the activities in order to ensure ethical conduct, compliance with regulations and achievement of the mutual goals of the supply chain network. Governance in supply chain management is a crucial aspect of the fashion industry’s commitment to ethical conduct and fair labour practices.

In creating an effective governance strategy for supply chain management, the company must promote transparency, accountability, and collaboration among suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and other partners, fostering a sustainable and responsible supply chain ecosystem. Relatively common methods of governance can include contracts, standards, reporting systems, social connections, ethical principles, and trust, among other factors. Let’s take a deeper look into what initiatives fast fashion companies can take or are taking in order to comply with governance in the supply chain management within the apparel space. 

Supply Chain Management Governance Initiatives in the Fashion Industry

Transparency and Traceability

Fashion brands are increasingly investing in technologies like blockchain to enhance the transparency and traceability of their supply chains. Through blockchain, every step of the production process, from raw material sourcing to manufacturing and distribution, can be recorded and verified. This transparency ensures that consumers, investors, and regulatory bodies can track the journey of products and verify the authenticity of ethical claims made by the brands. 

Supplier Audits and Certifications

Fashion brands conduct regular audits of their suppliers to assess their compliance with ethical and fair labour standards. Independent certification bodies, such as Fair Trade International and the Ethical Trading Initiative, provide certifications to suppliers who meet specific criteria related to fair wages, safe working conditions, and workers’ rights. Brands rely on these certifications to verify the ethical practices of their suppliers and ensure they align with governance principles.

Collaborative Initiatives

Many fashion brands collaborate with NGOs, industry associations, and other stakeholders to share best practices and collectively address ethical and sustainability challenges in the supply chain. These collaborative initiatives often involve the development of industry-wide standards and guidelines that promote fair labour practices. By working together, brands can leverage their collective influence to drive positive change and ensure ethical conduct across the entire fashion industry.

Zero-Tolerance Policies

Brands are adopting zero-tolerance policies for ethical violations within their supply chains. This means that any supplier found engaging in practices such as forced labour, discrimination, or unsafe working conditions is immediately obligated to end operation. Zero-tolerance policies send a powerful message that ethical misconduct will not be tolerated, hence aligning with governance principles of accountability and responsibility. However, because this remains under the discretion of the company, ill intentions may taint it, as seen on multiple occasions with Zara rejecting any claims made against them regarding forced labour under their brand and operations, despite the reality of the workers speaking otherwise. 

An Outlook in Implementing Governance in the Apparel Space – A Tough Yet Necessary Step

In light of the complexities surrounding ethical practices in the fashion industry, as consumers, we hold immense power in demanding transparency and ethical accountability from the brands we support. Yet, the responsibility also lies with the fashion industry itself to genuinely commit to change.

The SHEIN incident, along with various other instances of ethical discrepancies, serves as a reminder that there is much work to be done. The key lies in fostering a collective mindset shift, where not only fashion giants but every player in the industry, from manufacturers to consumers, understand the vital role they play in promoting ethical conduct.

As we move forward, the conversation should persist, encouraging brands to prioritize integrity, human rights, and environmental sustainability. Initiatives promoting transparency, supply chain traceability, and fair labour standards are not mere buzzwords but imperatives that can shape the future of fashion. Ultimately, the choices we make as consumers and the standards we demand from the industry can pave the way for a fashion landscape that is not only stylish but also ethical, empowering both the workers behind the scenes and the consumers wearing the creations.

In this ongoing narrative, questions about the ethical process of fast fashion continue to spark important discussions, urging us all to consider the impact of our choices and advocate for a fashion industry where ethics are as fashionable as the clothes themselves.


Ryciuk, Urszula. “Supply Chain Governance Mechanisms: A Review and Typology.” Eurasian Business Perspectives, 2020, pp. 145–159,