Report: Gen Z fast fashion comes at an inhumane cost to Shein workers
Gen Z’s incessant need for the latest trends has morphed into a monstrous multibillion dollar fast-fashion industry, which comes at the cost of textile waste and inhumane labor conditions, a new report alleges. A new documentary from U.K. news network Channel 4 went undercover to film inside two of Shein’s factories in Guangzhou, China, and what they uncovered was appalling, to say the least.
Among the nightmarish conditions, the investigation revealed that employees were penalized two-thirds of their daily wage for making mistakes and had to resort to washing their hair during breaks. The documentary also uncovered that the conditions in both factories allegedly violated China’s labor laws, including 18-hour workdays and having only one day off a month.
Shein factory workers were making a base salary of 4,000 yuan per month, about $556, while having to produce 500 articles of clothing a day, according to the report. Adding insult to injury, the company allegedly withheld workers’ first month’s pay. At the other end of this fast-fashion monstrosity is Shein founder Chris Xu, who launched the company in 2012 and quickly grew his net worth to an estimated $5.4 billion, making him one of the 500 richest people in the world.
Shein is no stranger to criticism; in the past, the company has been accused of mismanaging customer data, ripping off ideas from designers, and producing products containing harmful toxins. Earlier this year, the company received backlash from the environmentally conscious Gen Zers, who popularized the fact that the site uses quickly disintegrating fabric and is incredibly wasteful, packaging every item in an individual plastic bag. In a too-little-too-late move, Shein announced the launch of a new exchange program in partnership with Treet, a resale platform—on the same day the Chanel 4 documentary debuted.
In a statement, a Shein spokesperson claims that the company works with independent auditors to survey its suppliers and has requested specific information from Channel 4 for its review. “We are extremely concerned by the claims presented by Channel 4, which would violate the Code of Conduct agreed to by every SHEIN supplier,” a Shein spokesperson wrote. “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 labor practices and working conditions.”