Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to fellow lawmakers on Thursday encouraging congressional efforts to implement American anti-slavery laws against Shein, a Chinese “fast fashion” company that “steals intellectual property, infringes copyrights, exploits U.S. trade law, and uses fabric linked to Uyghur slave labor.”
Shein is an online retailer that sells clothing primarily targeted toward young female consumers at extremely cheap prices. Recent reports estimate the company to be worth $66 billion, and it dominates the American “fast fashion” market, representing about half of all sales in that sector in America, according to recent remarks at a hearing held by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).
The company has faced a barrage of criticism and outrage, from accusations by the Mexican government of stealing traditional Mayan designs to accusations of using Uyghur slaves in its supply chains.
Following the implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act (UFLPA) last year, authored by Sen. Rubio, companies importing products into America are forbidden from importing items from occupied East Turkistan, the indigenous territory of the Uyghur people, on the grounds that all items from East Turkistan are presumed to have been produced by slave labor. Companies can override the ban by offering definitive proof of the integrity of their supply chains.
Customs inspections for items from East Turkistan do not apply to packages worth less than $800, known as de minimis shipments. As Shein sells directly to consumers, most of its packages fall far under that limit and escape inspection. The average Shein package is worth $11.
— SHEIN (@SHEIN_Official) June 2, 2023
“A strategy for circumventing enforcement of the UFLPA might be to break up a shipment that is clearly subject to all reporting requirements into multiple de minimis packages. And companies are doing just that,” Anasuya Syam, the human rights and trade policy director for the Human Trafficking Legal Center, told Congress in April.
“On November 20, 2022, Bloomberg reported that Xinjiang [East Turkistan] cotton was found in apparel shipped by fast fashion giant Shein to U.S. consumers, based on the results of a laboratory test.”
In the face of growing scrutiny, Shein has launched a public relations campaign that hired high-powered Washington lobbyists to ingratiate itself with the American public and American politicians. Sen. Rubio wrote to his colleagues in anticipation of this campaign.
“Shein is hiring D.C. lobbyists to protect the trade loopholes that allow it to avoid accountability. No one should be fooled by Shein’s efforts to cover its tracks,” the senator wrote.
Noting that Shein dominates competition through low prices and the sheer variety of its inventory, Sen. Rubio remarked, “Shein is able to offer this array of products at rock-bottom prices not because of any particular competitive advantage, but because it steals intellectual property, infringes copyrights, exploits U.S. trade law, and uses fabric linked to Uyghur slave labor.”
The senator noted reports that independent testing on Shein cotton products found cotton from East Turkistan, where China uses Uyghur slaves to pick cotton. Despite this, American customs officials rarely, if ever, block Shein shipments because they are so low in value.
“Shein ships small packages direct-to-consumer using a trade loophole known as de minimis entry. Shein abuses this entry category to avoid customs duties and inspections on its unethically produced products,” Sen. Rubio wrote. “Shein’s exploitation of de minimis entry prevents scrutiny under UFLPA, cheats taxpayers of customs revenue, and undercuts American competitors that play by the rules.”
Shein knows its reputation is toxic, so now it is taking steps to clean up its image ahead of a potential initial public offering in the United States. It hired lobbyists from the firms Akin Gump and Hobart Hallaway and Quayle to protect its tax and trade loopholes. It relocated its headquarters from China to Singapore to escape scrutiny as a Chinese company, although its fabrics and garments are still made in China.
Rock the Runway: SHEIN for All
Will feature performances by @AvrilLavigne , @SHENYENG @ylona_garcia with special guest appearance @CSiriano
CAN'T-MISS FASHION, MUSIC, & DANCE PERFORMANCEShttps://t.co/DavIlN0hly
— SHEIN (@SHEIN_Official) September 23, 2022
“Shein is even touting its own ‘third-party analyses,’ which found that only some of its cotton comes from Xinjiang,” he wrote. “This study amounts to an admission of guilt, yet incredibly, Shein presents it as evidence of good corporate citizenship.”
Sen. Rubio concluded in a call to other senators to help “urgent efforts to hold accountable Shein and other companies that are complicit in genocide.”
China is currently engaging in a campaign of genocide against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz people, and other Turkic minorities in occupied East Turkistan, in addition to implementing ethnic cleansing policies in occupied Tibet and Inner Mongolia. As part of this campaign, the Communist Party imprisoned as many as three million people in concentration camps, a process believed to have begun in 2017. Survivors of the camps have testified to being subject to a wide variety of atrocities, including forced sterilization, beatings, communist indoctrination, gang rape, rape using electric devices, and witnessing rape, killings, and infanticide. Many have denounced Beijing for subjecting them to slavery.
Watch: Uyghur Muslims Protest Against the Chinese GovernmentPenny Starr / Breitbart News
The Chinese government allows the open sale of Uyghur slaves on its highly regulated internet in “batches of 50 to 100 people.” Human rights groups have documented some ending up working in factories nationwide; many stay in East Turkistan, forced to pick cotton. According to the 2020 Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) report Uyghurs for Sale, suppliers across China use Uyghur slaves to manufacture items in the supply chains of at least 83 internationally known companies, including Nike, Nintendo, BMW, and Apple.
Related — Uyghur Rights Group Spox: Companies That Act “Very Woke” Are Profiting from “Modern-Day Slavery”
While Beijing denies the genocide in general and enslaving Uyghurs in particular, the Communist Party does concede that the concentration camps, which it dubbed “vocational and education training centers,” did put people to work. Chinese officials claim the objective of the concentration camps was to give Uyghurs job skills that would give them an advantage in the modern Chinese economy.
The Chinese Communist Party’s denials have done little to ease concerns about the Uyghur genocide in the face of extensive evidence of ongoing abuses. Ongoing calls to regulate companies such as Shein to protect American consumers from buying slave-made products are likely behind Shein’s new charm offensive, which, as Sen. Rubio noted, featured testing of its cotton products that actually found East Turkistani cotton in its garments.
According to Politico, Shein hired Oritain, the industry standard in fabric DNA testing, to identify the origin of its cotton products. Oritain found East Turkistani cotton but said the company largely complies with responsible cotton sourcing given the small amount of its cotton that tested positive for originating in East Turkistan. Shein claims only four percent of its inventory sold in America is made of cotton, and most of its clothing is made with synthetic fabrics, which companies like Oritain cannot analyze as accurately.
Politico noted Shein denied that its synthetic fabrics come from East Turkistan, which is irrelevant given abundant reporting that China sells Uyghur slaves online to factories around the country.
Shein also published a corporate roadmap, titled “EvoluSHEIN,” in June “dedicated to creating opportunities for all stakeholders to access their full potential, anchored in integrity, inclusivity and respect for all.”
Peter Pernot-Day, SHEIN's Head of Global Strategy and Corporate Affairs, sat down with the @RETHINK_Retail team to discuss how our agile supply chain has enabled our growth. Listen to their discussion here: https://t.co/Xm4eFUnSlX
— SHEIN News (@SHEIN_News) May 11, 2023
The roadmap heavily focuses on environmental concerns, from the mass production of synthetic material to “equitable empowerment” for consumers.
Watch: Uyghur Woman Says She Doesn’t Know Whether Her Relatives Are Alive or DeadKurt Zindulka / Breitbart News