Fast-fashion empire Shein has once again fallen under scrutiny following an undercover investigation, conducted by United Kingdom broadcaster Channel 4, that revealed various violations of Chinese labor laws inside two of the company’s supplying factories in Guangzhou.
Film released by Channel 4’s undercover worker revealed insufficient wages, excessive labor and poor working conditions. In one factory, workers made a base salary of 4,000 yuan a month – equivalent to 556 U.S. dollars – and had an unpaid first month of employment. Workers were expected to produce 500 pieces of clothing per day, while the other factory was paying workers four cents per article, according to The Cut.
Women were seen washing their hair during lunch breaks and working up to 18 hour days. On top of these conditions, employees were only granted one day off per month, according to The Cut. If a mistake was made on a piece of clothing, workers were revoked two-thirds of their day’s wage.
In a statement given to Business Insider, Shein claimed “any non-compliance with this code is dealt with swiftly and [they] will terminate partnerships that do not meet [their standards].”
However, this is not the first time Shein has been publicly scrutinized. Stolen designs from independent designers, clothes containing unsafe levels of chemicals, leaked customer data, claims of poor working conditions and an alleged child labor scandal paint the past of the fast-fashion company. Numerous statements have been issued from the brand throughout their extensive history of scandals, with the Guangzhou factory investigation being the most recent.
Point Loma Nazarene University political science professor Lindsey Lupo sees this ongoing pattern as a result of the conflicting interests at the government level.
“It is the Chinese government that would be most responsible for ensuring safe working conditions, but given the Chinese record on human rights, I do not have a lot of hope that much will be done,” said Lupo. “Given the billions of dollars that companies like Shein, Zara, Forever 21 and H&M make in profit, it is not hard to see why the governments in the countries in which they operate are willing to look the other way.”
The company drew in nearly $10 billion in 2020, and is said to be valued at $100 billion in 2022, according to Bloomberg. High-priced pieces are not responsible for the exponential increase in company value; most items on Shein’s website are valued at $15 and below.
PLNU third-year health and human performance major Maddie Hernandez has noticed these prices causing a collective disregard for the company’s scandals.
“A lot of people know what’s going on, but people are greedy — they see good prices and would rather buy something for cheap. They only care about themselves and not what’s happening,” said Hernandez.
Shein remains as one of the largest fast-fashion retailers globally, valued greater than Zara and H&M combined, according to The Cut. Its sales show no sign of the company losing footing within the fast-fashion industry.
With the recent undercover investigation unveiling the poor working conditions that go on behind-the-scenes, the fast-fashion industry has been placed under the spotlight.
PLNU psychology major Anthony Thomé said Shein is a representation of the ethical issues surrounding the industry as a whole.
“Shein got presented as the problem, but the problem is bigger than Shein. A lot of different companies and organizations, that we have no idea about, are using child labor and doing all the same messed up stuff,” said Thomé. “Everyone is focused on Shein right now, but I feel like it needs to be focused on the issue, not just the company.”
Lupo believes steps can be made toward solving this issue when customers take on a more active role.
“The most effective and powerful changes can come from the consumer side — if we do not buy the products, businesses and governments will have to adapt. If we demand ethically sourced products, businesses will respond with a supply chain that prioritizes the people behind the products,” said Lupo.