George Harding Rolls, campaign manager at The Changing Markets Foundation argues the industry is “built on the backs of exploited garment workers”. The comments come after an investigation by The Times found Boohoo workers were calling themselves “slaves” due to their working conditions. Mr Harding Rolls highlighted issues surrounding the fast fashion giant SHEIN.
He said: “Ultra-fast fashion giant SHEIN has been found to pay workers as little as 3p per garment, and to force them to work for 18-hour shifts, seven days a week.
“The company has also been linked to cotton grown in forced labor conditions in China’s Xinjiang region.
“And it’s not just workers who are at risk. Recent testing by Greenpeace found that 15 percent of SHEIN garments tested contained levels of hazardous chemicals illegal in the EU, including phthalates in shoes and formaldehyde in baby clothing.”
Mr Harding Rolls said “someone is always paying the cost” for the fast fashion industry.
Speaking to Express.co.uk he said: “Cheap labor and cheap materials are the only way we can have such cheap prices and sales all the time.
“But someone is always paying the cost, whether it’s the climate, exploited garment workers, or communities in the Global South drowning in a flood of exported waste clothing.”
In 2020 Boohoo was forced to announce a commitment to “improve and strengthen” following the scandal over the illegal low wages of suppliers in Leicester.
But the recent investigation allegedly found work is “grinding, physically demanding and monotonous” with workers expected to meet unrealistic targets.
The report claimed: “Employees at the warehouse are paid £11 an hour for shifts of up to 12 hours during which they pick items ordered by customers from miles and miles of shelving across several floors.
“They are constantly monitored via scanning devices worn on the arm which instruct workers where to go for the next item.”
READ MORE: Christmas tree warning as families told to check and remove clumps
But Mr Harding Rolls said it isn’t just SHEIN and Boohoo, highlighting problems in the industry following the pandemic.
He said: “Wage theft is also common in fast fashion, particularly after canceled orders at the start of the pandemic.
“Brands are reported to still owe working in their supply chains millions in severance, despite returning to making large profits since the start of the pandemic.
“Next year marks the 10-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which exposed the dangerous conditions people making clothing for major brands were working in.
“Clearly fast fashion has not learned its lesson and has doubled down on its extractive, exploitative and inhumane business model all to turn a profit on cheap, low-quality clothing that is worn just a few times before being thrown away.”
The Rana Plaza factory collapse took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh which housed five garment factories, killing at least 1,132 people and injuring more than 2,500.
Following the investigation in Boohoo, a spokesperson said the company is “taking every claim seriously, but does not believe the picture painted is reflective of the working environment at our Burnley warehouse.
It added that “making sure people are safe and comfortable in their workplace is our highest priority”.
It added: “That is why more and more of our colleagues are choosing to stay here for longer, with our turnover rate continuing to fall year on year. We offer generous rates of pay, well over and above the National Living Wage, with additional benefits including subsidized private healthcare.Through our employee engagement program our colleagues tell us that they are happy with their working environment, feel valued and feel listened to.
“We have been operating our Burnley warehouse for 12 years and are extremely proud of the work that we do there, the amazing team we have on-site and the important part our business plays in giving back to the local community.”
Shein has been contacted for comment.