US Senators Question Fashion Retailer Shein About Forced Labor in Clothing Supply Chains

US Senators Question Fashion Retailer Shein About Forced Labor in Clothing Supply Chains
A man cleaning the windows of the first permanent showroom of Chinese online fast fashion giant Shein, during a media preview in Tokyo, Japan, on Nov. 10, 2022. (Richard A. Brooks/AFP via Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

U.S. senators wrote a letter to the chief executive of Shein, a China-based online fast fashion retailer, raising concerns about whether the company made use of cotton sourced from China’s Xinjiang region—a place notorious for pushing forced labor among Uyghur minorities.

“We are concerned that American consumers may be inadvertently purchasing apparel made in-part with cotton grown, picked, and processed using forced labor. We are also concerned that Shein may be pursuing a strategy to price shipments under de minimis value to minimize exposure to U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection to avoid scrutiny under Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930,” said the Feb. 9th letter by Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

De minimis level is the value below which imports are allowed to enter the United States with minimal government review and without duty.

The lawmakers pointed out that Xinjiang’s cotton lint production contributes to more than 85 percent of China’s total cotton production as well as 20 percent of total global output.

The letter expressed concerns that cotton fibers harvested in Xinjiang with forced labor might have entered Shein’s supply chain given the firm’s “large, decentralized network of suppliers.”

It also cited a media analysis from November 2022, according to which “laboratory testing conducted for Bloomberg News on two occasions this year found that garments shipped to the U.S. by Shein were made with cotton from China’s Xinjiang region.” The CEO of the lab that conducted the analysis also concluded that “it is a typical sample from Xinjiang, China.”

Importing Products Made From Forced Labor

The letter notes that cotton is designated as a “high priority sector” in the statute for enforcement of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA). which went into effect on June 21 last year.

The act expanded the provisions of Section 307 prohibiting any imports into the United States of any product that is mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part by forced labor.

UFLPA established a rebuttable presumption that items coming from the Uyghur region are prohibited by Section 307 and as such banned from entry into the United States. This applies to any item that includes inputs made in Xinjiang.

The letter asks Shein to answer certain questions within 30 days of receipt of the letter, which includes whether the cotton fibers used to manufacture its garments are sourced from Xinjiang; how the firm ensures that garments are produced without forced labor; the number of supplier audits the firm has conducted; and so on.

“Forced labor products, sneaking into America through our lax de minimis laws, should be stopped at the border and never make their way to American shelves. @SHEIN_Official needs to be transparent about the reported ties between their supply chains and Chinese slave labor,” Cassidy said in a tweet on Feb. 9.

Forced Labor in China

A top UN expert on slavery had said in a report released last year that it was “reasonable to conclude” members of minority groups like Uyghurs and Kazakhs were subjected to forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region.
In a Jan. 18th interview with NTD, a sister media outlet of The Epoch Times, Salih Hudayar, prime minister of the East Turkistan (Xinjiang) government-in-exile, said that the Chinese regime is forcibly relocating Uyghurs “en mass” to other provinces in China where they are being used as slave labor.

To end this human abuse, he asked for a ban on all products made in China. “This is the only way that we can stop the forced labor until China stops the genocide—until they can allow independent investigators to go into China to go into East Turkistan, to confirm that it’s not using it,” Hudayar said.

Other groups like Falun Gong adherents are also subjected to forced labor in China. Two elderly Falun Gong adherents died at the beginning of January 2023 after years of being persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party.

The adherents were kidnapped, illegally sentenced, and imprisoned in forced labor camps, as well as tortured numerous times for holding on to their beliefs. Last year, at least 7,331 Falun Gong adherents were reported to have been abducted and harassed.

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