A Swiss advocacy group found that suppliers for Shein, the Chinese fast fashion company, were working 75-hour work weeks.
Public Eye, a sustainability-oriented, politically and religiously independent solidarity development NGO based in Switzerland, reported six production sites in Guangzhou were found to have excessive hours with staff under enormous pressure to finish orders.
Shein replied that while it takes supply chain issues very seriously and will review it, but more often than not external auditors are what raises eyebrows.
Public Eye heard from 10 workers at six locations that they worked three shifts per day with only one day off each month. This could indicate that workers are paid by the finished product rather than an hourly wage.
BBC reports that such hours are not uncommon in Chinese production centers, even though they break local labour laws. These laws set out an eight-hour maximum work day and a 40-hour work week.
Shein stated that “Upon receiving the report, our immediate request was for a copy. Once we have reviewed the report, we will start an investigation. We have a strict Supplier Code of Conduct that includes strict health and safety policies, and is compliant with local laws. The spokesperson stated that if non-compliance was identified, we will immediately take action.”
From design to execution, it takes seven days to complete an item
Public Eye conducted an investigation into Shein last year to learn more about the fashion company’s structure. Shein works with thousands of suppliers. The average item costs 7,90 pounds and the company regularly drops 6,000 new products per day. It is believed that the company can turn around its fast fashion collections, from design to packing in seven days.
Victoria Bellandini is a senior fashion lecturer at University of Lincoln. She told BBC that clothes cannot be bought that cheap if they are made in good working conditions. And until we know exactly where our clothes come from, it’s impossible to source these problems.
Big brands claim they inspect their suppliers, but so many of these are farmed out to lower-cost factories. This means that there is a lack of transparency in line with industry standards. While the fashion industry is evolving to some extent at higher levels, it is not changing for lower-end brands.
BBC Public Eye visited the Shein warehouse in Guangzhou’s 16 million square feet, where it ships its clothes. A dozen workers interviewed said that they worked long hours and similar hours.
Who is Shein?
Public Eye says Shein is a newcomer in the fast fashion industry. Shein does not reveal any details about its revenues. According to a Chinese report, revenues for the year were close to USD 10 billion as of December 2020. Public Eye reported that a large Chinese roker expects revenue of approximately USD 20 billion in 2021. The Shein website has very little information, except that Shein is an “international B2C fast fashion eCommerce company”.
Its major markets include “Europe, America, Australia, the Middle East and other consumer markets.” It maintains that it is present in “over 150 countries and territories”. It doesn’t state where the clothes are distributed. The imprint of the Swiss website only provides the address of its parent company – Zoetop Business is located in Hong Kong.
Public Eye says that Shein, an online clothing retailer, is now catching up to industry giants H&M (and Zara) in the race for young women’s attention and money. The company behind the brand is still not revealed, despite its online glamour.