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‘They weren’t even sweating’: Inside the bizarre influencer trip to Shein’s Chinese factories

‘These influencers can’t be that gullible’


A group of influencers have come under fire after fast fashion brand, Shein, invited them to visit their Chinese factories and dispel “misinformation” about the company’s working conditions.

The influencers visited the Shein Innovation factory where clothing samples are made to be shipped to factories for reproduction.

Destene SudduthAujenéFernanda Stephany CampuzanoKenya FreemanMarina Saavedra, and Dani Carbinaro documented the trip on their various social media accounts. TikToks and Reels posted by the attendees included video tours of the factory, conversations they claimed to have with workers, as well as documenting the luxury treatment that Shein provided for them.

However, fans have criticised the influencers and the way in which the factory was shown. One user commented: “This is just embarrassing for them.” Another added: “These influencers can’t be that gullible.”

Ex-Love Islander Brett Staniland waded into the debate, saying that the trip, “resembled something like The Truman Show or the movie The Interview”. In his TikTok video about the controversy, he captioned his post: “Shein will stop at no lengths to make us all believe they run and ethical business when the factual evidence shows us something far from that.” Here’s everything that happened at the bizarre influencer trip to Shein’s Chinese factories:

@twinbrett

Just the most ridiculous greenwashing influencer market thing I’ve ever seen. Shein will stop at no lengths to make us all believe they run and ethical business when the factual evidence shows us something far from that. The influencers here have a responsibility here too, not just to do good work but to bring valuabke content to their audience and not mislead them. Awful on all accounts. #twinbrett #fastfashion #shein #sheincares #sheinhaul #sheinfactory

♬ original sound – Brett Staniland

♬ original sound – Brett Staniland

Destene Sudduth was condemned in the comments of her videos as viewers thought that she took the term “sweatshop” literally, saying: “They weren’t even sweating, we were the ones sweating walking through the whole facility”. Fans on her TikTok were horrified at her comment. One wrote: “The sweat comment was WAY out of line… like be so for real…” Another viewer left a comment judging Destene’s commentary, saying: “It can’t be a sweatshop, cos they aren’t sweating EXCUSE ME.”

Shein has come under fire in the past for its alleged working conditions, which were explored last year by the Channel 4 documentary, Inside the Shein Machine: UNTOLD. In the documentary, an undercover journalist reportedly worked in two factories that supplied clothing for Shein, working up to 18 hours a day and being told that they could have one day off a month. China’s labour laws state that workers should work a maximum of 44 hours per week. Employees are also entitled to at least five days of annual leave, excluding weekends and national holidays.

A spokesperson for Shein told Channel 4: “Shein engages industry leading third-party agencies… to conduct regular audits of supplier’s facilities to ensure compliance. Suppliers are given a specific timeframe in which to remediate the violations, failing which, Shein takes immediate action against the supplier, including terminating the partnership.”

via Channel 4

‘Just like normal’

Destene also said she asked employees about their work schedule and was told that they work “from eight till six and their commute is 10 to 15 minutes, just like normal”. In 2021, Public Eye reported a number of staff in Shein’s supply chain factories were working for 75 hours a week, meaning that workers would have to be working almost 11 hours per day. This violates not only the Chinese labour laws which set a maximum eight hour working day, but also Shein’s code of conduct which says: “The supplier partner shall arrange working hours reasonably and shall comply with local laws and regulations.”

A spokesperson for Shein responded to Public Eye’s investigation at the time saying: “Shein takes all supply chain matters seriously.”

They added: “Upon learning of the report, we have repeatedly asked Public Eye for the list of specific factories and locations so we can launch a targeted investigation and take action if noncompliance is identified. We continue to await their response.”

‘I was really impressed to see the working conditions […] Shein is such a developed and complex company’

Shein has previously been scrutinised for its working conditions, with their 2021 Sustainability and Social Impact Report revealing that only two per cent of their suppliers’ factories and warehouses audited were ranked as outstanding with “minor flaws”, and 12 per cent ranked as “Very poor with ZTV risks”. If these ZTV, or Zero Tolerance Violation risks, were not remediated within 30, 60 or 90 days, Shein said that this would result in “factory termination”.

The researcher for the Public Eye investigation in 2021 also claimed they didn’t see “a single emergency exit, and that the entrances and stairs don’t allow workers to leave the premises quickly.” The windows in the upper floor were also allegedly barred. Following Public Eye’s investigation, Shein said it launched its own investigation adding it would follow the company’s “strict supplier code of conduct which includes stringent health and safety policies and compliance with local laws”.

When American influencer Dani Carbinaro visited last week, she voiced over her video by praising the Shein factory’s working conditions, saying: “I was really impressed to see the working conditions […] Shein is such a developed and complex company.”

‘Our children wanna be on social media just like y’all, they’re not working in factories’

Destene said that she had spoken to a worker who told her: “Our children wanna be on social media just like y’all, they’re not working in factories.”

On social media, Shein has been rumoured to use child labour in the past. In their 2022 report, Shein reported that 0.3 per cent of the 2,812 factories audited were found to have people under 16 years old present in the factory. This means that at least eight factories used in their supply chain were illegally using child labour.

In the report Shein also said: “When ZTVs (Zero Tolerance Violations) are discovered, SHEIN assigns an SRS (Shein Responsible Sourcing) facilitator to oversee the correction process and verify remediation of the issue, providing support through training and investment on a case- by-case basis. Unannounced follow-up audits are conducted to support continuous improvement of our supply chain. To date, all identified ZTVs have been remediated within the required timelines as set out in the SRS Policy or the partnership has been terminated.”

‘Her defensiveness is telling’

After the controversy that the trip caused, Dani took to TikTok to post a video defending herself which has now been removed. @chescaleigh has since posted this video on Twitter, captioning it by saying: “She already deleted this follow up video but I think her defensiveness is telling.”

‘Be an independent thinker, get the facts, and see it with your own two eyes’

Dani originally posted the Reel below, and has been called out for having her opinions defined by a free trip, despite ending the video by saying: “I think my biggest takeaway from this trip is to be an independent thinker, get the facts, and see it with your own two eyes. There’s a narrative fed to us in the US, and I’m one that always likes to be open-minded and seek the truth, so I’m grateful for that about myself, and I hope the same for you.”

A spokesperson for Shein said: “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.”

Featured image via @itsdestene_ on TikTok

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