Shein, shock investigation reveals labor exploitation

A highly efficient algorithm, a perfect knowledge of social dynamics, very low prices: the success of Shein, the world’s most lucrative fast fashion brand (which became such in less than two years), is not based so much on the brand’s clothing proposal, but on the strategies used to sell it. Shein knows what the user wants before they are even aware of it, and proposes it to him through a mix of aggressive marketing and skilful use of contemporary media, selling it to him in a snap of his fingers. This is the assumption around which the investigation revolves Untold: Inside the Shein Machinemade by reporter Iman Amrani with Zandland Films, aired by All4 (the pay-TV of the British channel Channel4). But this is not what most shocked those who saw it: the darkest points of the documentary are those concerning the production of the Chinese giant, based on the hyper-exploitation of labor.

The discovery of hot water? In a certain sense, yes: for years those who deal with sustainability in the fashion world have denounced the giants of fast fashion for the exploitation of workers in the entire production chain and for non-existent environmental policies. But Shein seems to have hit rock bottom.

Untold shows some video and audio recorded secretly by an Amrani colleague who infiltrated two factories that produce clothes and accessories for Shein in Guangzhou. From them it is clear that the employees of the factories they work 17-18 hours a day, and who on average have one day off a month (“There is no Sunday here,” says a worker). The base salary is 4,000 yuan a month, about 540 euros, albeit the first salary is withheld by the company. Workers are required to produce five hundred garments a day. In one of the two factories, you are paid per piece produced: about 40 cents each. But if one of the bosses turns out to be bankrupt, two thirds of the daily wage is withheld from the worker. The hidden cameras of Untold even workers who, due to lack of time, wash their hair in the factory during the lunch break take up again.

Of course, all of this violates Chinese law, but Shein was quick to issue a communication stating that he will undertake to investigate. As reported by the Guardian, the company said it uses third-party agencies to conduct regular audits, during which compliance with laws and labor standards is verified. If irregularities are found, suppliers have a maximum time to remedy, if they do not do so “Shein will take action”. Interviewed by Insider, the company spokespersons declared “Extremely upset“From what they saw in the documentary, because those company policies” violate the Code of Conduct that every Shein supplier subscribes to, which is based on international conventions and local laws. ” If from their checks it emerges that the supplier does not comply with these regulations “we will close the collaboration that does not conform to our standards”.

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The Shein phenomenon, which exploded during the pandemic, represents “The fast fashion industry on steroids”, Explains the Amrani investigation. Indeed, the Shein catalog is immense, meant to be shrugged without ever coming to an end, and the prices of the garments are really low-low-cost (among other things, they are sometimes copied by small independent brands and designers). Valued at around $ 100 billion, its revenues exceed those of Zara and H&M combined.

Untold it is certainly not the first investigation into the production of fast fashion: many have denounced the working conditions and the use of resources by clothing giants. It is impossible in 2022 not to know that behind such low cost and massive production there is the exploitation of labor and resources: that of Untold it looks like a film that has already been seen, but, as Jack Seale writes in reviewing the investigation, “The problem is not that people don’t know what they are buying. The problem is that he doesn’t care ”.


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About Eric Wilson

The variety offered by video games never ceases to amaze him. He loves OutRun's drifting as well as the contemplative walks of Dear Esther. Immersing himself in other worlds is an incomparable feeling for him: he understood it by playing for the first time in Shenmue.

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