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Article

14 May 2024

Author:
Oliver Classen and David Hachfeld, Public Eye

China: Garment workers employed in Shein suppliers still face poor working conditions incl. excessive overtime & 'hardly changed' wages, two years after investigation

"Interviews with factory employees refute Shein’s promises to make improvements", 14 May 2024

“I work every day from 8 in the morning to 10.30 at night and take one day off each month. I can’t afford any more days off because it costs too much.” This statement was made by a man who has been working at sewing machines for over 20 years...our investigation partners talked to him and 12 other textile workers working for suppliers to [Shein] in late summer 2023. The interviews were conducted in production facilities located just west of Nancun Village, but still in the greater Guangzhou area in southern China.

In Nancun...where...the interviews for our report "Toiling away for Shein” took place two years earlier, the atmosphere was too risky to conduct any meaningful follow-up interviews...

75-hour week still the norm

...interviewees stated that they worked an average 12-hour working day...at least six, but usually even seven days a week. One company was found to officially close at night – but only at 11 p.m....the 75-hour weeks that we found out about two years ago still seem to be common at Shein...the company stated that “long working hours are a well-known, long-term issue.” According to its Code of Conduct for suppliers, they must not work more than 60 hours per week (including overtime). Not to mention that employees ought to have at least one day off per week.

Regarding wages, there were hardly any changes either, according to the interviewees. They gave similar figures for earnings to those in the 2021 report. Depending on the factory, season and level of expertise...the wages of ordinary workers fluctuate between 6,000 and 10,000 yuan per month (equivalent to CHF 765-1240), although there are strong seasonal fluctuations and the salary still depends on the number of items produced...

...Some interviewees observed a significant increase in the number of surveillance cameras installed in and around suppliers. They believed that the images are forwarded to Shein...to allow the company to enforce their regulations. One of these is the ban on child labour. It was summer holidays when we were conducting our interviews, and we could also see toddlers and young people in the workshops. Babysitting was often done in the workplace, especially in the small, unregulated companies. Teenagers...performed simple tasks, such as packaging, or sat at the sewing machines themselves, instructed by their parents...Whether they were paid for this remained unclear. Shein stresses its “strict zero tolerance” for the use of child labour and is promising to fund 25 daycare centres in the current year...Shein also denies any access to the surveillance camera footage.

Major fire risk and unpaid alterations

Based on observations made during the investigation, the official smoking ban is not enforced either. The investigators came across workers with lit cigarettes in stairwells and even in the entrances to fabric warehouses. The fact that most of the products and fabric remnants were simply stacked on the floor increases the fire risk. According to the interviewees, only the work equipment and escape routes are checked during the sporadic factory inspections...

If the quality is not up to the company’s expectations, it can be costly. A quality check supervisor stated that his company would be “punished” by having an order cancelled for every defective batch. And any stitcher whose work is not up to scratch...has to perform alterations unpaid, according to the interviewees. “Whoever makes the mistake is responsible for putting it right. You have to fix the problem in your own working time”, explains a 50-year-old supervisor. One person mentioned that careless quality controllers would even have to pay a fine of between 300 and 1000 yuan...