Three U.S. senators questioned fast-fashion giant Shein last week on whether some of the company’s clothes contained cotton from China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
“We are concerned that American consumers may be inadvertently purchasing apparel made in-part with cotton grown, picked, and processed using forced labor,” Democratic Sens. Bill Cassidy, Elizabeth Warren and Sheldon Whitehouse wrote in a letter to the company following a Bloomberg report last fall.
Lawmakers were 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” and avoid enforcement scrutiny. A U.S. ban on cotton from the Xinjiang region, passed due to concerns around forced labor of the Uyghur people in China, took effect last year.
The senators went on to ask Shein outright if it or its suppliers sourced cotton from the Xinjiang region in addition to other questions about its practices, such as how the company documents its supply chain from the bale level to shipments and if it tests cotton in its labs to ensure none of it is sourced in the region.
“As a global company, Shein takes visibility across our entire supply chain seriously,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to Supply Chain Dive. “We are committed to respecting human rights and adhering to local laws and regulations in each market we operate in. … We have zero-tolerance for forced labor.”
The spokesperson added that Shein works with “industry-leading” third-parties to audit its suppliers’ facilities, including with the fiber-tracing lab Oritain. The company also requires suppliers to purchase cotton from from Australia, Brazil, India, U.S and other approved regions as a measure to comply with U.S. law.
A Bloomberg report that conducted its own tests on Shein products found at least two instances in 2022 where the fast-fashion giant shipped garments to the U.S. made with cotton from Xinjiang. The news service noted in its report that individual shipments from Shein usually fall below the $800 threshold that requires reporting to U.S. Customs of bulk retail imports.