Channel 4’s Shein expose was a pat on the wrist for fast fashion junkies

Journalist Iman Amrani investigated Chinese fast fashion retailer Shein - Zandland/Zandland

Journalist Iman Amrani investigated Chinese fast fashion retailer Shein – Zandland/Zandland

As we know, there is no free lunch. There doesn’t seem to be a £4 dress either. Inside the Shein Machine: Untold (Channel 4) surveyed the human and environmental cost of fast fashion. It didn’t make for a great viewing and might just give punters pause before clicking “add to cart”.

Chinese giant Shein has become a global success story in recent years, becoming the fastest growing fast fashion brand on the planet. It is now valued at £84billion, but claims abound about abusive working conditions at the notoriously secretive business.

This lively investigative documentary saw journalist Iman Amrani explain how the brand has mastered social media to flood the market during the pandemic. It cleverly exploits TikTok and Instagram, tempting users to its manipulative website. Here, smart algorithms and countdown timers push them to make impulse purchases. The brand knows what customers will buy before they do.

As Amrani scrutinized the British side of the business, undercover reporter Mei posed as a migrant garment worker in China’s Guangdong province and smuggled hidden cameras into Shein’s factories for the first time. time.

With short production cycles to capitalize on short-lived trends and meet increases in demand, the pressure on its army of staff was high. Mei said most produce hundreds of articles a day and can’t leave until they’re done. In some cases, she said, mistakes meant their salaries were withheld and heavily moored. They sat hunched over sewing machines until dawn, with only one day off a month (“There’s no Sunday here”).

This, she claims, violated both Chinese labor laws and Shein’s own code of conduct. Exhausted sweatshop workers received a paltry base wage, plus 2 pence per garment sewn, meaning they earned £19 for an 18-hour shift. “Their business model is exploitation,” said one human rights activist. “Workers are treated like dogs.

We heard how Shein was accused of design theft, making copycat clothes at a fraction of the price. There were also questions about his tax status, although these were only mentioned in passing. The company’s founder, reclusive tech mogul Chris Xu, is a multi-billionaire about whom little is known. The bright colors of Shein’s clothing stood in stark contrast to claims about the black hole at the heart of the company.

Finally came the impact of fast fashion on the planet. The amount of clothing produced worldwide has doubled over the past two decades to around 150 billion items per year. The rag trade is responsible for more pollution than air and sea transport combined.

Low prices drive overconsumption by a generation that views clothes as disposable, sometimes wearing them only once (or not at all) before throwing them away. Because they are of such poor quality, they have no resale value or afterlife. A truckload of clothes is sent to landfills in the UK every second. Shein’s donations to environmental causes were just a drop in the ocean, dubbed “greenwashing.”

Despite Shein’s previous promises to improve wages and conditions, little has changed. It is suspected that it will not change much after this talk either. The documentary tackled a disturbing subject and was told in an engaging way. However, until we wean ourselves off cheap clothes – which is no small feat in times of economic crisis – the ethical issues they have highlighted will not go away.

When approached for comment, Shein delivered a lengthy speech to program officials, including: “Shein is absolutely committed to holding our ecosystem partners accountable…which includes our Supplier Code of Conduct, which is conforms to the core conventions of the International Labor Organization.. Shein engages industry-leading third-party agencies…to conduct regular audits of supplier facilities to ensure compliance.When legitimate complaints are raised by holders of valid intellectual property rights, Shein promptly resolves the situation.

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