Temu shoppers risk buying items made by forced labour, MP warns

Temu package
Image caption,The Chinese online retailer has had 9 million UK users in December, according to data

By Sam Gruet

Business reporter, BBC News

Christmas shoppers ordering cheap gifts from Temu risk buying items made using forced labour, an MP has warned.

The Chinese app, popular for its huge range of clothing, toys and gadgets at ultra low prices, was downloaded 19 million times in the UK in 2023.

But Alicia Kearns, head of the foreign affairs select committee, told the BBC she’d “long been concerned about the rise of Temu and the risks it poses”.

Temu said it “strictly prohibits” the use of forced, penal, or child labour.

The warning comes after a US government investigation found an “extremely high risk” that products sold on Temu could have been made with forced labour.

The Senate Committee reported the only measure Temu took to ensure this did not happen was to insist that suppliers agree to terms and conditions that prohibit the use of forced labour.

‘Shop like a billionaire’

Temu is backed by Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo and launched in the US in 2022.

Since its UK launch earlier in 2023, Temu has regularly topped app download charts. The app has nine million monthly users according to figures given to the BBC by data analyst Sensor Tower.

The online marketplace with the slogan “shop like a billionaire” allows consumers to buy directly from Chinese manufacturers at low prices.

It told the BBC by offering more affordable options for everyday items, it had helped “numerous families mitigate the impact of rising living costs”.

Rina opening a Temu package
Image caption,Single mum Rina has posted videos of her unpackaging Temu orders online

Single mum Rina agrees. She started using Temu after watching unboxing videos of people opening packages online.

The 32-year-old, who lives in Bedfordshire with her four-year-old son, says shopping on the Chinese marketplace has helped her save money to pay her rent and bills.

“Sometimes I feel guilty, you know, but I need to prioritise myself first… I don’t like when my son would ask me for something. I want to have some money to buy it,” Rina explains.

She says this Christmas she has spent £100 on gifts, compared with the years before Temu when she spent between £200 and £300.

“As a single mum, I need to be looking for a bargain. It’s scary at first, but it’s just so cheap. So I just disregard the bad things”.

Rina vlogs her shopping on Youtube, and says she was approached by Temu and offered £100 to do an unboxing video.

‘Inundated with adverts’

The company has spent millions on marketing, including brand partnerships with online influencers, social media adverts and even a 30-second advert at this year’s Super Bowl – the price of a prime tv slot like this has been known to be as high as $5m (£3.8m).

Temu’s online search presence is huge – with items from the site consistently appearing in the top results when shoppers use a search engine to look for an item.

Alicia Kearns MP has been one of those “inundated” with Temu adverts, telling the BBC “it’s been difficult to get away from them”.

She is calling for greater scrutiny of the online marketplace to make sure “consumers are not inadvertently contributing to the Uyghur genocide”.

Uighur family pictured outside their home
Image caption,The Uyghurs are the largest minority ethnic group in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang

China has been accused of detaining more than one million Uyghurs in Xinjiang against their will over the past few years.

The region produces about a fifth of the world’s cotton and human rights groups have voiced concerns that much of that cotton export is picked by forced labour. China denies all allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

But speaking about a lack of transparency around its supply chains, Ms Kearns warned the reality of cheaper prices could come from a “reliance on slave labour”.

“When you look into where Temu gets its goods from, where in China it is producing them, you can see that these are areas where we know that there is the use of force Uyghur slave labour,” said Ms Kearns.

“My request to Temu would be show us your supply chain. Show us that you are not using Uyghur slave labour,” she urged.

‘Slave labour’

Ms Kearns’ comments have been echoed by leading anti-slavery charities in the UK.

Chloe Cranston from Anti-Slavery called on Temu to provide “full transparency on its supply chain,” while the Chief Executive of Unseen, Andrew Wallis OBE, said “It is imperative consumers, but also governments, know the circumstances and the situations in which goods are manufactured and brought to market.

“The question consumers need to ask themselves is, these are goods that are in essence made by slaves? Is that the kind of gift you want to give at Christmas?”

Temu told the BBC anyone doing business with it must “comply with all regulatory standards and compliance requirements”.

“Employment by all our merchants and suppliers must be voluntary. https://sebelumnyaada.com We explicitly reserve the right to terminate any business relationship if a third party violates our platform’s Code of Conduct or the law,” the spokesperson added.

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