A year later, Shein’s labor practices remain under scrutiny

Two years after an investigation into Shein's manufacturing facilities in southern China, a new follow-up analysis still highlights terrible anomalies: illegal working hours and piece wages remain a typical feature of the daily lives of workers at the ultra fashion giant . In the supplier factories, in fact, there are still workers who sew clothes for more than 12 hours a day, excluding lunch and dinner breaks, for six or seven days a week

Just a year ago, it seemed that Shein was committed to ensuring a fair and dignified wage for all its workers. However, a new report suggests that the Chinese fast fashion giant is still grappling with serious issues concerning working hours and wages throughout its entire supply chain.

Workers are forced to labor for long hours, bent over a sewing machine, to produce the cheaply priced garments that are highly sought after across the globe. Despite previous exposures of labor exploitation, little seems to have changed. According to Shein’s homepage, the company operates in over 150 countries, boasts 19 offices, employs 11,000 people, and collaborates with 4,600 designers and more than 5,000 suppliers. Yet, these impressive numbers coincide with brutal, unending workdays, starvation wages, and a complete lack of rights.

A study by Public Eye, a Swiss human rights group that first shed light on these severe abuses in 2021, confirms that little has changed: workers at some factories supplying Shein still work 75 hours a week.

The 75-hour workweek is still the norm

“I work every day from 8:00 AM to 10:30 PM and take one day off per month. I can’t afford more days off because it costs too much,”

stated a man who has been working at the sewing machines for over 20 years, and who was pieceworking for Shein products at the time of the interviews.

For this investigation, investigative partners of Public Eye spoke with him and 12 other textile workers who work for suppliers of the Chinese ultra-fast fashion group at the end of summer 2023. The interviews took place in production facilities just west of the village of Nancun, in the Guangzhou area of southern China.

The six production sites visited mostly comprised small workshops employing between 40 to 80 employees, but also included two larger factories with up to 200 employees. In both cases, the interviewees reported working an average of 12 hours a day—excluding lunch and dinner breaks—at least six, but usually seven days a week, and one company even officially closed at night.

The horrendous workload mentioned above appears to continue to be the norm. In other words, the 75-hour week discovered about two years ago still seems to be commonplace at Shein.

Shein group structure

@Public Eye

Regarding wages, according to the interviewees, there have been no changes, providing figures similar to those in the 2021 report. Depending on the factory, the season, and the level of skill (including only some types of overtime), ordinary workers’ wages range between about $835 to $1,390 a month (converted from 6,000 to 10,000 yuan), although there are significant seasonal fluctuations and wages still depend on the number of items produced.

What was Shein’s response?

In a statement to CNN, the company claimed to “not recognize many of the allegations contained in the (Public Eye) report“.

“The Public Eye report is based on a sample of 13 interviewees and, while all voices in our supply chain are important, this small sample size should be seen in the context of our global and ongoing process to continuously improve our supply chain, which involves engagement with thousands of suppliers and workers within the supply chain,” added the company.

In December 2022, Shein announced its intention to invest $15 million to modernize hundreds of factories belonging to its suppliers. This announcement came after a documentary aired by the British channel Channel 4, which accused Shein of labor exploitation against two of its suppliers in China, with factory staff working 18 hours a day and earning just a few cents per item.

A spokesperson for Shein finally told CNN that the company requires its suppliers to limit workers’ hours to 60 hours weekly, including overtime, and to grant workers at least one day off per week.

As the old adage goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions…”

Source: Public Eye

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