Sunday, December 18, 2022

Shein vows ‘whistleblower’ help as she admits abusing garment factory workers

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The fast fashion retailer admits garment workers are being forced to work late but pledges £12m to upgrade factories

Fast-fashion retailer Shein has vowed to invest millions in improving standards after admitting there had been labor abuses at its supply factories.

Garment workers in factories in China often work up to 18 hours a day, are paid just 3p per item, have no weekends and only one day off a month, a Channel 4 documentary revealed.

Shein has pledged to invest US$15million (£12.2million) to set up a whistleblowing system, allowing workers at its contract factories to anonymously submit grievances, feedback and suggestions via email, phone or WeChat, “to assist in our efforts to monitor and manage compliance to our Code of Conduct and to uphold workers’ labor rights.”

Shein admitted workers were working late, but claimed “although these are significantly less than documentation claims, they are still higher than local regulations allow.”

Work abuse highlighted by Ishowed that workers in supply factories were fined two-thirds of their daily wage for a single mistake.

The Rolling Stones then demanded that their merchandising deal with Shein be terminated I drew the band’s attention to allegations of labor abuse in the Chinese company’s supply chain.

Shein denied further allegations of factory labor practices in the documentary, following the findings of investigations commissioned by the company and conducted by independent experts at Intertek and TUV.

Wages in the Chinese factories at the heart of the allegations are said to be both “significantly” higher than the local minimum wage in Guangzhou, southern China, and higher than the average wage for workers in the region’s garment industry. Allegations that factories are withholding workers’ wages or illegally deducting wages are also untrue, she added.

It refused to pay workers just a penny per finished item and insisted they be paid for each step of a garment’s production process.

The Chinese fashion retailer said it has reduced orders from both factories, which have had workers working longer than local regulations allow, after an independent review found workers were working up to 13.5 hours a day. Shein has given suppliers until the end of December to reduce hours.

Shein denied that its factories withheld wages or illegally withheld wages from workers when production targets were not met.

The company faces harsh criticism for its environmental and governance practices, including exploiting workers who make its garments and copyright theft.

Shein makes billions of dollars in profits by unveiling thousands of new designs on its addictive website every day and selling them cheaper than everyone else. Shein was last valued at $50bn (£40.7bn) in early 2021; In the same year, sales rose 57 percent to $15.7 billion.

It has also faced claims that garments exported abroad were made from cotton from China’s Xinjiang region, where manufacture of the fabric has been linked to allegations of forced labor against Xinjiang’s Uyghurs.

The retailer insists it is taking action in all of its markets “to ensure we comply with local laws and regulations”. According to its website, it conducts regular audits to “ensure a zero-tolerance policy for ‘forced labour’ and other environmental and social issues”.

Adam Whinston, Global Head of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) at Shein said: “We take our responsibility to protect the well-being of workers at all of our suppliers very seriously. Through Shein’s Responsible Sourcing Program (SRS), we have diligently worked with our contractors to improve welfare and working conditions.

“We are now looking to double our investment in the SRS program to further improve supplier management.” He added: “Although the audit revealed an issue with working hours, this has been raised with both manufacturers and we have our orders significantly scaled back until they take effective action.”

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