A Channel 4 investigation has claimed that workers for the popular fast-fashion company Shein are being paid as little as 3p per item, while being forced to work 18-hour days.
Shein has exploded in popularity in recent years, and is now the world’s biggest online only fast-fashion company, according to Euro Monitor. It releases thousands of new designs on its addictive website daily, outperforming rivals like H&M and Zara by churning out more styles and selling them cheaper than anyone else. The mysterious Chinese company’s aggressive social media marketing has captured the attention of Irish and British consumers, with ‘Shein hauls’ popular with young, female Tiktok, YouTube and Instagram users.
The undercover investigation undertaken by Channel 4 looked into factories supplying the online fashion giant’s clothing items, with secret recording capturing the conditions in two factories in China making the types of clothes sold to British shoppers for as little as £1.49.
The alarming investigation found that Shein employees often have to work 18 hours a day while earning a shocking 3p wage for each clothing item produced. Workers are only given one day off per month, an undercover journalist has claimed.
The filming also uncovered that Shein factory employees in China are fined two-thirds of their daily wage if they make a single mistake during the manufacturing process for clothing items.
Responding to the documentary, ‘Untold: Inside the Shein Machine’, Shein said it was “extremely concerned” by the allegations made during the investigation. It denied that the conditions are part of its labour policies, and added that such conditions would also be deemed illegal by Chinese labour legislation.
Women in one factory were allegedly filmed washing their hair during their lunch breaks, because they have so little time outside of their shifts. Workers in the first factory at an undisclosed location in China are paid a monthly wage of 4,000 yuan (€574) to make a minimum of 500 garments a day.
In order to take home a living wage, many workers stay late into the night to earn a commission of 0.14 yuan (2p) per item.
One of the workers who talked to the journalist revealed that they are not eligible for any leave or weekends off. Presenter of the documentary, Iman Amrani, told iNews that exploitative policies are driven by a desire to undercut competition.
“It’s a scramble to the bottom. If somebody cuts a little bit more off the price or the cost to make something, they are beating you… When you look at Boohoo Missguided, Pretty Little Thing, any of these websites, they’re basically all selling the same thing – my little sister will argue with me over which one has got the better quality clothes, but what they are really competing on is production and price,” programme presenter Iman Amrani told i.
“Every one of them is competing with each other, regardless of where their factories are or where their business is based.
“For the people looking at their screens in Newcastle, Scarborough, Scunthorpe or wherever, it doesn’t matter where the clothes were made, they’re just thinking: ‘That one is £12 and that one is £13.’”
Even though Shein is famed for selling clothes at remarkably low prices, it was valued at $100 billion in April of this year.
Responding to the documentary and its revelations online, social media users called for fashion-lovers to boycott the company, which has found itself embroiled in controversy on multiple occasions before for allegedly stealing others’ designs.
“Shein workers are literal slaves. They shower and wash their hair during lunch breaks. They make $3 for 18 hour shifts. Someone filmed what happens inside the factory and may lose their life over it. STOP f*****g supporting this company. Please,” one frustrated Twitter user wrote.
“When clothing costs less than a sandwich, best believe that someone, somewhere is being exploited,” was the response from fair fashion campaigner Venetia La Manna on Twitter.
when clothing costs less than a sandwich, best believe that someone, somewhere is being exploited. https://t.co/ZXiM5fm867
— Venetia La Manna (@venetialamanna) October 17, 2022
“How are people shocked by this? Why do you think they can sell the cloths so cheap? Do people in the west think these companies just like eat losses for their benefit?” another user added.
“Never trusted this company. There’s no way to make clothing this cheap ethically. Need to crack down on this kind on thing,” one YouTube viewer said in the comments section after the documentary was posted to YouTube.
Another person said the root of the problem lay in our culture’s consumerism, materialism, and quest for more and more things.
”People have gathered so much ‘stuff’ in their homes that they don’t value any of their items anymore. It’s just about having a piece once and throwing it away! Having some good quality pieces that will last years to come makes life so much more peaceful and easier – instead of spending £500 on absolute rubbish at these fast fashion brands. Consumerism is a drug – we feel the need to constantly buy more and more!” YouTube user Sana Khan said.
Shein said it would investigate the claims made by the programme.
It comes as some Irish style lovers were sent into a frenzy after spotting a Shein pop up store in Dublin’s Jervis fashion centre on Saturday. The company opened a pop up showroom in Dublin in March of this year, with over 600 items available to view, however, there was no option to purchase anything, with punters directed to buy anything they liked online.
The new pop up store, however, has been confirmed to open its doors next month.