Photo by Dick Thomas Johnson
Earlier this year, Bloomberg News sent Shein clothing for laboratory testing and found indicators that the cotton was from the Uyghur Region. Now, associate professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware, Sheng Lu, sat down with NPR to discuss concerns about the apparel company.
Made with Uyghur forced labor
Lu told NPR,
Currently, I don’t think legally companies have to publish their factory list. What we can see from the product label is, you know, where the finished garment is made. So we know most of Shein’s products that are made in China, most of Chinese cotton was made in the Xinjiang region, which was concerned of involving forced labor, right? So if 100 percentage of Shein’s products is made in China and Shein’s products using cotton, of course, now there’s a legitimate concern about whether Shein’s products, you know, involve forced labor.
Despite evidence that Shein is tied to the Uyghur Region, between 2020 and 2022 alone, Shein’s U.S. orders have soared by 568%.
The U.S. is being hailed by advocates and the Uyghur diaspora for its model legislation banning Uyghur forced labor imports. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) has gained recognition worldwide as best practice as it operates on the assumption that all products manufactured in the Uyghur Region are produced with forced labor, requiring importers to provide “clear and convincing evidence” to prove otherwise.
Big enough to drive a 747 through
And yet 2.7 million Shein packages arrive in the U.S. daily. Shein is so popular in the U.S. today that the online retailer, which largely advertises its good via social media, recently confirmed that it will be opening distribution centers there soon. There are also rumors that the company has plans for a U.S. listing on the stock exchange.
How is this possible? Unfortunately, the UFLPA has a loophole some say is “big enough to drive a 747 through.” This is the de minimis rule that allows imports below $800 to enter the U.S. without Customs and Border Protection (CBP) scrutiny.
Companies like Shein, which sells famously cheap products, can bring their goods into the country without triggering CBP reporting requirements.
Shut down Shein
Shein fans may have to do without the ultra cheap clothing soon enough.
Advocates, including a group called Shut Down Shein, are calling for extra scrutiny of the company – and they’re not alone. American lawmakers from both political parties are currently urging the top markets regulator in the country to mandate that Shein disclose any potential forced labor practices before its potential listing in the United States. They stated, “While Shein claims its products do not utilize Uyghur forced labor and it works with third parties to audit its facilities, experts counter these types of audits are easily manipulated or falsified by state-sponsored pressure.”
Freedom United and over 280 organizations, led front and center by survivors and families of current detainees, are advocating for companies to cut ties with the Uyghur forced labor system. What’s certain is that things will not change overnight. In the meantime, the Freedom United community will continue to flag the risk of Uyghur forced labor to companies with existing links to implicated suppliers.
Sign the petition calling for an end to Uyghur forced labor today.