With IPO on The Horizon, Shein Draws Criticism for Working Conditions at Supplier Factories

As Shein, a retailer known for its ultra-low prices, prepares for its initial public offering (IPO), questions about the working conditions at its supplier factories are growing more intense. A new report has revealed that employees at these factories are still subjected to harsh and excessively long working hours.

The latest investigation by Swiss advocacy group “Public Eye,” found that some workers are still working 75-hour weeks. This follows a similar report the group issued over two years ago. The issue of labor conditions has long been a concern in the fashion industry, particularly for companies that rely on external production facilities. Despite the introduction of strict regulations, violations continue to persist.

Public Eye conducted interviews with 13 workers at 6 factories in China that supply Shein. The workers reported that excessive overtime remains commonplace. The report specifically identified six production sites in Guangzhou where excessive overtime is a regular occurrence.

One male worker, who has been involved in sewing for over 20 years and produces noticeable turn-up seams for Shein products on a piecework basis, told Public Eye, “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.”

Shein does not disclose its suppliers, but Public Eye identified the factories based on employee testimonies and the presence of Shein products during manufacturing. The six sites visited by Public Eye included small workshops employing 40 to 80 workers and larger factories with up to 200 workers.

The interviewed workers reported working an average of 12 hours a day, excluding lunch and dinner breaks, typically six days a week, and sometimes seven. At one company, working until 11 PM is officially sanctioned. Public Eye noted that there have been “hardly any changes” in wage levels since their 2021 report.

Workers sewing clothes for Shein. 2023, Guangzhou. Courtesy of Public Eye

With regard to wages, there is also virtually no change compared to the 2021 report. Depending on the factory, season, and level of expertise (including only excess overtime hours), wages for general workers fluctuate between 6,000 yuan and 10,000 yuan per month, with strong seasonal fluctuations and pay still dependent on the number of items produced.

Due to Shein’s demand for small-batch production with constantly changing patterns, substantial professional experience is required, and many workers are from the older generation, typically in their late 30s and above. Consequently, a cover stitch specialist might earn over 10,000 yuan a month. Other sewing workers earn between 6,000 and 8,000 yuan, while quality inspectors earn around 7,000 yuan.

In response to these findings, Shein told the BBC it was working hard to address the issues raised by the report and had made significant progress on enhancing conditions. The company also claimed that it was investing tens of millions of dollars in strengthening governance and compliance across our supply chain.

As Shein approaches its IPO, the company faces increasing scrutiny to demonstrate its commitment to ethical practices and to improve working conditions for its factory workers. How Shein will address these issues moving forward remains a critical point of interest.