Is Temu Sustainable? The Environmental and Ethical Costs

Naman Bajaj
February 20, 2024

Taylor Swift and her beau Travis Kelce were, of course, the highlight of Super Bowl 2024. But this one brand became the talk of the town after its ambitious Super Bowl advertising, airing six prime-time ads.

We are talking about Temu (pronounced as teh-moo), the online discount marketplace that offered $10 million in giveaways and coupons as part of its Super Bowl promotion.

What is Temu?

Temu is an ecommerce platform that has gained popularity in recent years by offering extremely low-priced goods. It provides a wide range of products across more than 25 categories, including clothing, beauty products, tools, and appliances.

Although the company is incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in Boston, it’s owned by Pinduoduo Inc., one of the most valuable Chinese companies (by market cap) listed in the U.S.

Similar to Shein, Temu ships products directly from China to consumers in 50 countries. Temu uses China's low-cost manufacturing and cheap labor to maintain low operational costs and product prices. But, there are social and environmental consequences associated with these products.

Concerns about Temu's involvement in forced labor

In May 2023, a Congressional committee sent letters to brands such as Nike, Adidas, Shein, and Temu, asking for information regarding their compliance with the U.S. anti-forced labor law. After receiving responses from these brands, the committee published its report in June 2023.

According to the report, Temu stated that it does not explicitly prohibit the sale of goods from Xinjiang, a region notorious for the use of forced labor from China's ethnic minorities. In fact, in 2021 President Biden signed a law that bans the import of products from the Xinjiang region. The report also mentioned that Temu does not conduct any audits or have a compliance system in place to examine if its 80000+ suppliers are observing U.S. forced labor law.

These facts suggest that Temu disregards workers' rights and may be involved in forced labor.

The environmental impact of Temu’s products

Temu's marketing campaigns bombard consumers with ads for $10 toasters and $6 skateboards, making it difficult for them to resist the allure of these ultra-low prices.

This aggressive marketing strategy leads to overconsumption, as consumers end up ordering more than they need. Here are 6 tips to avoid overconsumption when shopping online. Unfortunately, most of these items are of subpar quality (which is not surprising given their low prices), and after a few uses, they end up in landfills.

Temu's shipping practices also contribute to transportation emissions. Its orders are shipped directly from suppliers in China to consumers worldwide, adding to the carbon footprint.

Every day, Temu sends more than a million packages across the world, resulting in a significant amount of packaging waste. Online shopping generates 4.8 times more packaging waste than offline shopping, exacerbating the packaging waste problem.

These issues raise questions about Temu's commitment to sustainability and responsible business practices. Big organizations like Temu should be at the forefront of fighting climate change, but instead, they are enabling it. As consumers, we can play our part by not supporting these organizations and investing in more sustainable brands.

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Naman Bajaj
February 20, 2024

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