The cotton used by Shein is believed to be linked to the region of forced labor

  • An analysis of Shein’s clothes by Bloomberg reveals that the clothes were made with cotton from China’s Xinjiang region accused of forced labor for the Uyghur minority.
  • Since 2021, the United States has banned material from this area, but Shein’s business model makes it possible.
  • Last year, 87% of China’s cotton production came from Xinjiang, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.
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A Bloomberg investigation revealed that the clothes sent to the United States by the giant Shein were made with cotton from the Chinese region of Xinjiang, accused, according to various reports as well as the UN, of forced labor for the Uyghur Muslim minority .

Specifically, the outlet made two product purchases this year; subsequent analysis of their fibers in a laboratory revealed that they were made from cotton from the Xinjiang region of China.

The clothes were chosen from some 60,000 items that came up in a search for “cotton” on the retailer’s US website. The isotope ratios of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen matched the two samples within the range indicating a very likely origin from Xinjiang.

In fact, the problem is not new in the sector. H&M also had stuff from the same place

In 2020, the H&M Group communicated the decision to cut its business relations with suppliers who used Xinjiang cotton because of the forced labor it was subjected to.

The decision provoked a widespread boycott of the brand, but also of Nike or Inditex, the latter, in fact, was forced to remove a mention where it separated its production from the region.

US calls actions against Uyghurs ‘horrible abuses’

Statements from former detainees and reports from a number of investigators and advocacy groups have claimed that the Chinese government has held more than a million people in detention camps in the region.

The US State Department has called the actions against the Uyghur people “horrible abuses”. In response, federal authorities last year banned the import of cotton and other products from the region.

Europe, for its part, will follow a similar path.

A U.S. regulation banning cotton from Xinjiang went into effect in early 2021, and Congress extended the ban to all products — including solar panels and raw materials — from Xinjiang under the Prevention Law. of Uyghur Forced Labor (UFLPA) last December.

For its part, the European Commission has proposed a ban on all imports made with forced labour.

These bans prompted retailers to be quick to show they weren’t sourcing cotton from Xinjiang, but Shein knows their situation is different.

The lagoon that Shein enjoys

Shein’s business model is to sell its products directly to its customers without intermediaries. For this reason, their individual shipments to the US market are, the media outlet explains, below a value threshold of $800.

About 2.7 million such packages arrive in the country daily, a number that has nearly doubled since fiscal 2021, according to customs data.

Below this amount, there is no reporting requirement to US Customs and Border Protection. This means that they are not subject to the control that applies to bulk imports by retailers.

Shein did not respond to Bloomberg’s comments.

Shein, for his part, did not dispute Bloomberg’s test results or say whether he used cotton from Xinjiang.

The fast fashion retailer said it was taking action in all of its markets “to ensure that we comply with local laws and regulations”.

Additionally, a “sustainability and social impact” report prepared by Shein in the United States highlights that the company conducts periodic audits to ensure a zero-tolerance policy towards “forced labor” and other environmental and social concerns.

However, for Shein, the US position poses a challenge.

On the one hand, acknowledging that its cotton comes from Xinjiang could alienate consumers, but denying it risks angering Beijing, where the Chinese government has vehemently denied the claims, saying there is no work. forced in Xinjiang, only job creation programs.

Official figures that reveal the origin of cotton

Simple math suggests that much of Xinjiang’s cotton has recently arrived in the United States, as the overwhelming majority of Chinese cotton comes from the region.

Last year, 87% of China’s cotton production came from Xinjiang, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

Last year, US importers imported $8.4 billion worth of cotton products from China, including apparel, through regular declared channels.

At the same time, the value of Chinese cotton imports to the United States increased by 125% compared to 2020 and imports of the same kind of cotton garments increased by 23% until August, compared to the same period one year. earlier.

In August and September, customs officials said they seized, interdicted or held for further documentation 1,329 shipments of goods to the United States worth more than $425.5 million.

They did so “due to suspected use of forced labor,” including goods subject to the UFLPA.

Shein, an unknown giant

Shein has managed to become a giant in the fast fashion industry. So much so that its valuation in April rose to $100,000 million, a figure that Inditex and H&M, its main rivals, cannot reach together.

While everything surrounding Shein is a mystery, unofficial sales estimates already speak of $16,000 million last year, and are on track to reach $24,000 million this year.

According to people familiar with the business, about a third of that figure comes from the United States.

The Chinese retailer’s orders in the United States soared 568% in the first two years of the pandemic, through March 2022, according to Bloomberg data.

NOW READ: Shein wants to fight its polluting nature in the fashion industry with 3 sustainability commitments

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