Shein admits working hour breaches and pledges £12m to improve sites

The Chinese fashion retailer Shein has vowed to invest $15m (£12.2m) in improving standards at its supplier factories as it admitted working hours at two sites breached local regulations.

The online brand said an independent investigation, launched after allegations over labour abuse made in a recent UK documentary, had uncovered that employees at two of its Chinese sites were working hours that were longer than allowed.

It found staff at one of the factories were working up to 13-and-a-half-hour days with two to three days off a month, while those at the second site were working up to 12-and-a-half hours a day, with no fixed structure for days off.

Shein said: “While these are significantly less than claimed in the documentary, they are still higher than local regulations permit.”

It has cut orders from the manufacturers that operate the sites by three-quarters and given them a deadline of 31 December to address their working hours, or face possible further action.

The undercover investigation by Channel 4 alleged employees at the factories were working up to 18 hours a day, throughout weekends, and being paid as little as 3p an item, with only one day off a month.

The claims in the documentary, called Untold: Inside the Shein Machine, resulted in the group coming under fire, with its recently launched licensed collection with the Rolling Stones reportedly having its contract terminated over the allegations.

However, Shein denied the other allegations made over factory working practices in the documentary after the findings of the investigations commissioned by the firm and carried out by experts at Intertek and TUVR.

It said wages at the Chinese factories at the centre of the claims were “significantly” higher than the local minimum wage in Guangzhou and more than the average wage of workers in the region’s clothing production sector.

“The claims that factories withhold worker’s salaries or illegally deduct wages are also untrue,” it added.

The firm also denied that workers were paid only pence for each completed item, insisting they were paid for each step of a garment’s production process.

It comes after Shein was recently said to be selling hundreds of products for only 1p over Black Friday, and shines the light once more on working practices involved in budget clothing retail.

Shein said its investment plan would result in hundreds of factories in its supply chain being upgraded over the next three to four years and also includes aims to double its spend on responsible sourcing to $4m a year.

This will allow it to increase unannounced spot checks and invest more in training suppliers on how to meet its code of conduct rules.

Adam Whinston, the global head of ESG (environmental, social and governance) for Shein, said: “Through Shein’s responsible sourcing (SRS) programme we have been working diligently with our contracted partners to improve welfare and working conditions.

“We are now looking to double our investment in the SRS programme to improve supplier management further.”

Whinston said the firm had also launched a system to allow workers at its contracted factories to anonymously submit complaints, feedback and suggestions via email, phone or WeChat, “to support our efforts in monitoring and managing compliance to our code of conduct and to uphold the labour rights of workers”.

The Guardian

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