Textile workers’ rights group: Shein ‘offering up fig leaf’ with £12m investment into factory standards
Shein has left many environmental campaigners unimpressed after revealing it would invest £12.2m into improving standards at its suppliers’ factories.
The Chinese retailer admitted its hours for workers at two sites breached local regulations, after allegations of worker mistreatment in a recent Channel 4 documentary.
Staff at one factory were working up to 13.5 hour days with two to three days off a month, while those at another were working 12.5 hour days, with no fixed structure for days off.
The new pot of cash would go towards making “physical enhancements” to factories, with more than 30 projects to be completed by the end of the year. Up to 300 projects are to be finished within four years, Shein said earlier this week.
All Shein’s contracted manufacturing suppliers have agreed to comply with the company’s code of conduct, which was “aligned” to International Labour Organization core conventions, local laws and regulations, it said.
The retailer said more than 2,600 independent audits were carried out in past 12 months by “leading testing and quality control agencies.”
Shein said it had reduced orders from the two producers featured in the Channel 4 documentary by three-quarters until they fully comply with its code.
However, it said it refuted most of the allegations in the programme, following findings of independent auditors.
Shein was “offering up a fig leaf” as carrying out auditing was not “worth the paper it’s written on as a defence against exploitation or factory safety,” according to textile workers’ rights group Labour Behind the Label.
Audits were the equivalent of firms “paying someone to mark their homework – you always get back what you want to hear,” Labour Behind the Label’s advocacy lead Anna Bryher told CityA.M.
E-retailers should follow in the footsteps of high street firms and “start doing grown up supply chain management,” Bryher said.
She called on e-tailers to publish supplier lists and have an “honest response” to scandals, addressing the causes of exploitation.
The fast fashion titan has closed in on global giants H&M and Zara owner Inditex in recent years.
It was valued at £100bn in April and is notorious for selling thousands of new clothes every day for, at times, little more than £1.
Very competitive prices have led to the company increasing its piece of the fast-fashion pie from three per cent in 2019 to 16 per cent today.
The fashion giant took its “responsibility to safeguard the welfare of workers at all our suppliers very seriously,” Adam Whinston, global head of ESG for Shein said.
Workers at the two identifies factories were “earning significantly more than the minimum wage and many other workers in the industry in their region,” he said.
However, Labour Behind the Label said that the root cause of abuses uncovered by journalists was a business model that “drives excessive working hours in intense pressure production environments, on tiny margins.”
“Sure, anyone can earn minimum wage through piece rate if you work 18 hour days,” Bryher added.
The statement felt “more reactive than proactive,” according to retail analyst Wizz Selvey, who told CityA.M. lots of Shein’s customers were increasingly concerned with brands’ values.
“It’s much harder to build back brand equity once it’s been lost,” Selvey added, with potentially many shoppers keen to swerve retail therapy trips after the documentary was aired.
“Whilst it is encouraging that Shein have announced their programme to upgrade their supply chains, it will be interesting to see how impactful it will be for them in the immediate and near-term,” she added.