Shein is at the centre of a shocking new Channel 4 documentary that exposes the behind-the-scenes truths at the world’s most popular fast-fashion clothing brand.
After evolving from the wedding dress wholesaler Sheinside in 2015, the Chinese online clothing retailer is the current-day poster child for all things fast fashion. Want a sexy dress for that night out, a cosy winter jumper, or a pair of chic shoes? Shein will undoubtedly have you covered with its cheap-as-chips products and an endless supply of stock added to its site daily, which indeed leads to millions of #SheinHaul hashtags on TikTok.
But while Shein may be an easy and superficial haven for all things fashion, the company has long been brought into question with its ethical and environmental impacts, as well as its hugely questionable employee policies – the latter of which is the focus of the new documentary Untold: Inside The Shein Machine.
Hosted by journalist Iman Amrani, the doc exposes the human cost of the retailer’s business model by sending an undercover worker inside two supply factories in Guangzhou, U.K – and what they find is shocking.
What is discovered during the investigative reporting on Untold: Inside The Shein Machine?
So, it’s important to note that under Chinese labour laws, workers cannot work more than 40 hours per week. But in the shocking insight, workers in both factories worked 18 hours a day, with shifts starting at 8 am and finishing in the early morning hours. It was also found that workers were given only one day off per month, with a Shein worker explaining in the documentary: “There’s no such thing as Sundays here.” The undercover reporter noted: “The factory has a very inhumane system”.
How much are Shein workers paid?
Workers are severely underpaid, with it being discovered that workers in one factory earned a base salary of 4,000 yuan (approximately £492) per month to make 500 pieces of clothing per day. If workers made a mistake on an item of clothing, they were penalised two-thirds of their daily wage.
With little time to do anything other than work, Channel 4 reported that women often washed their hair during lunch breaks.
What else has Shein come under fire for?
The brand has also been criticised for toxic chemicals, such as lead, PFAS and phthalates found in clothing, following an investigation conducted by Marketplace last year. They have also received backlash for stealing designs from independent designers without permission or credit and for how they handle customer data.
What has Shein said in response to the new documentary?
A representative for Shein told GLAMOUR: “We are extremely concerned by the claims presented by Channel 4, which would violate the Code of Conduct agreed to by every SHEIN supplier. Any non-compliance with this code is dealt with swiftly, and we will terminate partnerships that do not meet our standards. SHEIN’s Responsible Sourcing standards hold our manufacturing suppliers to a code of conduct based on International Labor Organization conventions and local laws and regulations governing labour practices and working conditions. We work with leading independent agencies like TUV, SGS, OpenView and Intertek to conduct unannounced audits at supplier facilities. We have requested specific information from Channel 4 so that we can investigate.”
The company has also launched a resale program, which they announced on the same day of Channel 4’s documentary release. This environmentally friendly model with the Shein Exchange encourages shoppers to buy and sell previously owned products.
However, the move is being dubbed as “hypocritical” online following the finding of the Channel 4 doc. One person tweeted: “48 hours after SHEIN were outed for paying their garment makers just 3p per item, they decided to launch a resale app called SHEIN Exchange to “influence and promote mindful consumption among its customers.” @SHEIN_Official: please explain what’s “mindful” about sweatshop labour?.”