Enough is enough.
Chinese fast-fashion conglomerate Shein is once again facing allegations of unethical business practices, just another on their long laundry list of wrongdoings that include copying small businesses, allegations of modern slavery and violating labour laws.
And yet even as we speak, a reported 9,000 new items of allegedly toxic chemical ridden clothing is being uploaded to their website, while on TikTok people are showing off their #sheinhauls.
Sure, the appeal of buying affordable clothing may be attractive to some, but do you know the price of what you’re purchasing?
There’s no transparent way to say it (just like Shein’s business practices): the company is not just bad or cheap, but a deplorable example of the dangers of the microtrend cycle and exponential speed in which fast fashion is accelerating the industry.
- None of Shein’s supply chain is certified by labour standards which ensure worker health and safety, living wages or other labour rights.
- There is no evidence it ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain.
- It uses few eco-friendly materials.
- There is no evidence that it has taken meaningful action to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals.
- There is no evidence it has a policy to minimise the impacts of microplastics.
And that’s just the start.
Now, a new documentary is shining a light on how truly abhorrent the working conditions in Shein’s factories are.
Untold: Inside The Shein Machine from reporter Iman Amrani takes viewers inside Shein’s business model and offers the first ever undercover investigation into the Chinese factories producing the clothes.
The documentary explores the real cost of Shein’s cheap clothing, and the price human lives have to pay in return for a polyester crop top that will cost less than your morning iced oat latte.
The film offers an undoctored view into the factories Shein uses when manufacturing their clothes, revealing that employees are severely overworked and underpaid—earning less than $20 per week.
Yet, when one of the 6.9 billion #sheinhauls comes across our TikTok pages, our thoughts are not with the human being who created the garment, or even on the life span or ethical disposal of the piece when it no longer serves as purpose to us.
We have no regard for the worker who was found to be paid $4,000 yuan (approximately $879 AUD) annually, encouraged to work up to 18 hours per day and penalised two-thirds of their daily wage if they made a mistake on a garment.
On top of that, these employees were only given one day of leave each month and were found washing their hair during lunch breaks due to their toxic working environment.
Shein claims to never violate labour laws, yet these working conditions are in strict breach of Chinese labour law which states that “workweeks cannot exceed 40 hours”.
In over 700 audits completed in 2021, 14% of factories were found to violate working hours, with another 27% violating fire and emergency preparedness.
“[Employees] work after dinner every day of the week except one, with one day off per month,” a researcher, whose identity was kept anonymous, told the watchdog of their on-the-ground findings. The same researcher alleged they didn’t see “a single emergency exit, and that the entrances and stairs don’t allow workers to leave the premises quickly”.
“I don’t want to think about what would happen if a fire broke out there,” they added.
Sure, Shein has a published supplier code of conduct that strives to “uphold integrity, respect human rights and further sustainable development”, but these findings are evident that Shein’s claims they “take all supply chain matters seriously” is a farce.
Of course, we’re only scraping the surface here.
Our awareness of what makes a brand ethical and sustainable has broadened in recent years, and thankfully we’re more aware than ever of the factors at play that makes a brand eco-conscious.
As Good On You asserts, Shein “discloses little to no relevant or concrete information about their sustainability practices”.
The reality is that the majority of fast fashion finds their way into landfill, littering the earth with the sparkling singlet you may have worn once and then discarded.
Shein might be cheap, but the true cost isn’t one we want to pay.
Enough is enough. It’s time for a slow fashion revolution.