Influencers face backlash for promoting Shein factory during PR trip in China

The influencers visited the fast fashion retailer’s ‘innovation factory’ in Guangzhou

Kate Ng
Tuesday 27 June 2023 20:45 BST
Fast Fashion's Impact On The Environment

A group of influencers have come under fire after posting glowing videos from their paid trip to a factory owned by controversial fast fashion retailer Shein in Guangzhou, China.

Shein, which has been previously accused of labour abuse and admitted to breaching rules around working hours, brought the group of six fashion influencers from the US to tour its “Innovation Factory”.

Influencer and model Dani Carbonari was one of the influencers who went on the trip and posted a video tour on her social media last week. After facing criticism from her followers – of which she was more than 481k on Instagram and nearly 300k on TikTok – Carbonari appears to have deleted the post.

In her original post, she wrote in her caption that the trip to Shein’s factory gave her the opportunity to see with her “own two eyes what the entire process of Shein clothing looks like from beginning to end”.

“I feel more confident than ever with my partnership with Shein. There are so many companies not taking half the initiative Shein is. They are aware of every single rumour and instead of staying quiet they are fighting with all of their power to not only show us the truth but continue to improve and be the best they can possibly be,” the “confidence activist” continued.

The video showed a brightly lit factory, with staff working in clean, dust-free conditions and automated bots that assisted with processing and packaging orders.

The other influencers, Destene Sudduth, Aujene, Fernanda Stephany Campuzano, Kenya Freeman, and Marina Saavedra, also shared similarly glowing Instagram posts about their visit.

Viewers have pointed out that the influencers appeared to use a “script” for their posts, as they involved similar language. In her post, Saavedra said: “Like many others, I’ve heard a lot of misinformation”, while Carbonari wrote: “You have to remember our country is filled with so much prejudice – we want to believe we’re the best and no one else can be better.”

But viewers have pointed out that the influencers’ comments about the Shein factory they saw – one of 6,000 factories that the online retailer has, according to Time magazine – do not address the allegations that have been levelled over Shein’s labour and environmental impact.

Channel 4 launched an investigation last year that involved an undercover worker filming inside two Shein factories in Guangzhou and found that workers receive a base salary of 4k yuan per month (approximately £434) to produce 500 pieces of clothing per day.

The investigation also found that workers in both factories were working up to 18-hour days regularly and were only given one day off a month. Later, Shein said that after conducting an independent investigation, it found that employees indeed working longer hours than the local laws allowed.

Shein found that staff at one factory were working up to 13-and-a-half hour days with two to three days off a month, while those at the second site worked up to 12-and-a-half hour days with no fixed structure for days off.

It said that “while these are significantly less than claimed in the documentary, they are still higher than local regulations permit”. At the time, Shein vowed to invest US$15m (£11.8m) to improve standards at its supplier factories.

On Twitter, one person wrote: “Shein is sending the influencer girlies to China to some (PR) ‘innovation’ factory where it looks pristine and super clean and the workers are having fun while sewing and the company saying they pay a ‘competitive’ wage lol.”

Another said: “The funniest part of the Shein debacle to me is the influencers acting like they went undercover to investigate. You were invited, of course, it’s PR.”

A third added: “Them Shein influencers getting cooked and Shein ain’t [sic] defending them. Meanwhile, the girls are doing their best to explain to us why Shein ain’t too bad. It’s sad.”

Shein told The Independent in a statement: “Shein is committed to transparency and this trip reflects one way in which we are listening to feedback, providing an opportunity to show a group of influencers how Shein works through a visit to our innovation center and enabling them to share their own insights with their followers.

“Their social media videos and commentary are authentic, and we respect and stand by each influencer’s perspective and voice on their experience. We look forward to continuing to provide more transparency around our on-demand business model and operations.”

The Independent has contacted Carbonari, Sudduth, Aujene, Campunazo, Freeman and Saavedra for comment.

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