Saturday Night Live Skit About Fast Fashion: Would You Stop Buying It?

As reported last week by BBC Business reporter Charlotte Edwards, “Workers for some suppliers of Chinese fast fashion giant Shein are still working 75 hours a week, despite the company promising to improve conditions, a report [by Swiss advocacy group Public Eye] suggests.” Here’s an excerpt from the BBC article:

According to the group, who interviewed 13 employees from six factories in China supplying Shein for its latest investigation, excessive overtime was still common for many workers.

[Shein] relies on thousands of third-party suppliers, as well as contract manufacturers, near its headquarters in Guangzhou, and is able to turn around a new item in a matter of weeks, rather than months. However, an employee who has worked at sewing machines for 20 years told Public Eye: “I work every day from 8 in the morning to 10.30 at night and take one day off each month. I can’t afford any more days off because it costs too much.”

In its response to the latest report, Shein said long working hours in the sector were a “common challenge that brands, manufacturers, and other ecosystem players must work together to address.”

Coincidently (or not), Saturday Night Live aired a skit this past weekend poking fun at this fast-fashion trend, raising questions about forced labor, worker pay, and product quality. Check it out:

The most important question the skit raises is near the end, when one of the actors portraying a customer asks, “Is this shady?” and the narrator answers, “If it was, would you stop buying it?”

All the actors portraying customers say “No.”

So, even though Shein is correct that “brands, manufacturers, and other ecosystem players must work together to address issues” such as forced labor and low worker pay, the most influential player in resolving these problems are consumers. 

At the end of the day, money talks. If consumers stopped buying from these e-commerce retailers, it would force everyone else in the supply chain to take aggressive actions to combat these problems. But the sad and honest truth is that consumers don’t really care about how these goods are made; they care more about price, look, and availability. They follow the advice repeated several times by the narrator in the SNL skit: “Don’t worry about it.”

(By the way, China-based Shein and Temu aren’t the only ones accused of labor issues. As reported last week by CBS News, a report from the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois Chicago found that “fifty-three percent of [Amazon warehouse] workers said they experienced food insecurity in the previous three months, while 48% said they had trouble covering rent or housing costs over the same time period, [and] another 56% of warehouse workers who sort, pack and ship goods to customers said they weren’t able to pay their bills in full.” Amazon disputed the survey methodology and findings, but I doubt any of us, if we’re honest, will stop ordering from Amazon today as a result.)

For related commentary on this topic, please read “Another Reason To Expand Definition Of Supply Chain Visibility.” Also, in other related news from earlier this month, Reuters reported that “Banned Chinese cotton found in 19% of US and global retailers’ merchandise, study shows.