For affordable clothing, many college students turn to the Chinese fast-fashion company SHEIN for both its dirt-cheap prices and vast selection of clothes. SHEIN has quickly become the epitome of fast fashion, releasing between 2,000 and 10,000 pieces daily. A shopper can browse tops under $5.99, dresses under $9.99, and clearance items under $5—an entire outfit can be created under $30.
“SHEIN hauls” constantly go viral—young people unpack their massive deliveries and have a try-on for all to see. Many of these YouTube videos have been viewed millions of times, and TikTok videos with the tag #SheinHaul currently has a total of seven billion views. This proves one thing: our generation loves SHEIN.
It has been commonly acknowledged that it is not possible for a company to maintain these prices in any way that can be considered moral or ethically justified. Therefore, it is not surprising that SHEIN has repeatedly come under fire for just about everything unethical you can conduct within a company: high levels of toxic chemicals within its clothing, plagiarizing independent designers’ designs, mishandling customer data, and horrible working conditions within their factories. However, none of these scandals have affected SHEIN’s rapid and steady rise.
A new investigation by the U.K. broadcasting network Channel 4 brings to light details about the working conditions of factory suppliers. Footage was exposed within the outlet's documentary, currently only released in the U.K., “Untold: Within the Shein Machine.” The outlet sent an undercover worker to two supply factories in Guangzhou, and revealed the horrible conditions found behind closed doors.
In one factory, it was discovered that workers make a base salary of 4,000 yuan per month – approximately $556 – to make 500 items per day, while workers have their first month's pay withheld from them. In the other factory, workers are paid the equivalent of four cents per item. If any mistake is made, workers are fined two thirds of their daily wage. Workers in both factories are working up to eighteen hour days with just one day off per month. In one of the factories, female employees washed their hair on lunch breaks because there is so little time left after work.
According to Chinese labor law, a working week can comprise a maximum of forty-four hours, overtime cannot exceed thirty-six hours per month, and workers must have at least one day off per week. Workers within the documentary report their work weeks consisting of over one hundred hours, showing SHEIN’s lack of care towards its workers in its omission of these laws in whole.
In September of 2021, SHEIN published a Supplier Code of Conduct for the first time. It stipulates that “supplier partners shall provide a safe, hygienic and healthy workplace environment.” Clearly, there remains much work to do in this regard.
It is unclear whether or not the company performs any kind of inspection on its factories. In a statement on its U.S. website, the company claimed to invest “substantial efforts and resources” in its audit system. SHEIN states that in the past, it conducted audits, and that it will be conducting additional internal audits, with and without notice, of manufacturing partners and product vendors. However, the workers within the documentary report no mention of any audits being conducted within their facilities.
When asked for comment, SHEIN told Business Insider that “any non-compliance with this code is dealt with swiftly, and we will terminate partnerships that do not meet our standards,” which is exactly what SHEIN has said when accused of illegal practices in previous years. It has become clear that SHEIN is not interested in moralizing its current supply practices when an illegal practice is uncovered, and will instead continue the company’s cycle of releasing a statement and moving on.
Just days after the investigation was released to the public, the company released its newest business model, “SHEIN Exchange,” a feature that allows peer-to-peer resale of SHEIN products. However, when the quality of the products allows them to be worn only a few times before falling apart, who would opt for this option when the cost of a new item is only a few dollars more? This response is obviously not enough to make up for the violation of human rights that was revealed.
No matter how tempting this price tag can be, it is far beyond time to ditch fast fashion and start shopping more sustainably. If contributing to the sustainability of our planet is not enough to convince customers, the human cost of the company’s business model should.
It is up to consumers to boycott fast fashion. Though it might prove challenging, it is not impossible to keep up with the trends while also shopping sustainably. Instead of immediately turning to SHEIN for clothing basics and Halloween costumes that will be donned for a single night, thrifting can offer equally affordable prices. Boston is a great place to find great thrift stores, and if a trip to the city is not accessible, online thrift stores are an easy alternative.
Social media has brainwashed our society into thinking maximalism is the only way, and SHEIN makes this unsustainable practice possible for an insanely cheap price tag. However, no piece of clothing is more valuable than a person's right to a happy and healthy life. Before you turn to SHEIN for your fall finds, consider an option that does more good than bad.