Shein vowed in 2022 that it would improve working conditions and hours at suppliers, but a new study claims that nothing has changed



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Fast fashion retailer Shein said in late 2022 that it would make changes after probes revealed that Chinese workers at its suppliers were working excessive hours, but a new report by a Swiss advocacy group claims that nothing has changed for employees.

Public Eye found that employees at Shein suppliers were working more than 75 hours a week and sometimes for seven days straight—directly violating the company’s code of conduct for suppliers that says employees can work a maximum of 60 hours a week and have at least one day off. In addition, Chinese labor law says workers need to have one day off a week and cannot be on the clock for more than 40 hours in a week, with overtime not to exceed 36 hours per month, Public Eye wrote.

The advocacy group interviewed 13 employees whose ages ranged from 23 to 60 in the summer of 2023 to find out about the working conditions at Shein suppliers in the greater Guangzhou area in southern China. One of the interviewees (whose identity was withheld) said he worked from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and took only one day off a month.

“I can’t afford any more days off because it costs too much,” the man told Public Eye.

On top of the excessive hours, employees sometimes had to work off the clock too. If workers make a mistake with stitching, they have to fix it unpaid, the interviewees told Public Eye.

“Whoever makes the mistake is responsible for putting it right. You have to fix the problem in your own working time,” according to a 50-year-old supervisor at one of the Shein suppliers. 

The report also called out Shein suppliers for safety hazards, including for not enforcing a ban on smoking, which could cause a fire because textiles are flammable. The workers interviewed said factory inspectors check work equipment and escape routes but not compliance with the no-smoking rules.

“The fact that most of the products and fabric remnants were simply stacked on the floor increases the fire risk,” the report read.

The company, which is headquartered in Singapore, relies on a network of 5,000 third-party suppliers to fill its orders, according to its website. Shein does not disclose any details about its financials, but a report in Chinese media from 2020 put its annual revenue at about $10 billion. In January, one of its key partners said it brings in “a lot more than $30 billion.” 

The most recent report by Public Eye follows up a 2021 investigation that first detailed excessive hours and lack of days off at Shein suppliers. Public Eye reported at the time that workers at Shein suppliers in the Nancun neighborhood of Guangzhou were working more than 75 hours a week with only one day off a month. A year later, Shein said it would invest $15 million to improve working conditions at its suppliers’ factories.

For its part, Shein said Monday it doesn’t recognize “many” of the allegations in the latest Public Eye report, but a spokesperson for the company said in a statement that it had made “significant progress on enhancing conditions across our ecosystem.” The spokesperson added that Shein’s wages were higher than other employers, and exceeded the local minimum wage. 

“SHEIN is investing tens of millions of dollars in strengthening governance and compliance across our supply chain, as well as empowering our suppliers to build more successful and responsible businesses, and we will continue to make substantial investments in these areas,” the spokesperson told Fortune in an email.



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