Chinese fashion retailer Shein has vowed to invest 15 million US dollars (£12.2 million) 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 following 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 under local rules.
It found staff at one of the factories were working up to 13-and-a-half hour days with at least 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 that “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 December 31, to address their working hours, or face possible further action.
The undercover probe 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 just one day off a month.
The claims in the documentary, called Untold: Inside the Shein Machine, has seen the group come under heavy fire, with its recently launched licensed collection with The Rolling Stones reportedly set to have its contract terminated over the allegations.
But 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 both “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 are only paid pence per completed item, insisting they are paid per each step of a garment’s production process.
It comes after Shein was recently said to be selling hundreds of products for just 1p over Black Friday and shines the light once more on working practices involved in budget clothing retail.
Shein said its investment plan would see hundreds of factories in its supply chain upgraded over the next three to four years and also includes aims to double its spend on responsible sourcing to four million US dollars (£3.3 million) 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, global head of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) for Shein, said: “We take our responsibility to safeguard the welfare of workers at all our suppliers very seriously.
“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.”
He added: “While the audit did reveal an issue with working hours, this has been raised with both manufacturers and we have significantly scaled back our orders from them until they take effective action.”
Mr 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”.