What is Shein?
If you’re into fashion or retail, you likely have heard of Shein last year. This e-commerce and fast-fashion clothing platform based out of Singapore is going global – as of April 2022, they are valued at over 100 billion. Founded in 2008, they have recently been getting into US headlines, including several times for their insane growth (200% returns for their early investors, according to Bloomberg) and their questionable practices.
Bloomberg, in November of 2022, linked Shein to cotton grown in the Xinjiang region using DNA evidence but 6-months later, Shein’s position is just that they have no suppliers in that region at all.
For example, Shein’s statement to WUSA 9 on this issue:
“SHEIN has no suppliers in the Xinjiang Region. Our suppliers are based in regions including Brazil, Southern China, and Turkey. We take visibility across our entire supply chain seriously, and we are committed to respecting human rights and adhering to local laws in each market we operate in. Our suppliers must adhere to a strict code of conduct that is aligned to the International Labour Organization’s core conventions. We have zero tolerance for forced labor.”
Importers of record?
Shien is facing complaints in many countries, including the US, for evading import tariffs. Traditionally when customers order a good online from a store like Amazon, Amazon already has it nearby and ships it to the customer. This means that Amazon or a vendor has paid to import the products into the country and paid taxes to the government.
Shien avoids this by listing the individual customer as the importer of record and leaving it up to the post office or the government to go back to collect from the individual. This issue hasn’t come to a head yet for customers, but it likely will when they start getting hit with surprise tax bills.
Does Shien use child and forced labor?
Almost certainly, Shien uses child labor and forced labor and knowingly does it by violating local labor laws in the countries in which they operate. Here are the pieces of evidence that illustrate why there is such certainty about the supply chain:
Shein’s Cotton Tied to Chinese Region Accused of Forced Labor – Bloomberg
Shein suppliers’ workers doing 75-hour week, finds probe, “Although such hours aren’t unusual in Chinese production hubs, they violate local labour laws, which set out a maximum working day of eight hours, as well as a 40-hour working week.” – BBC
Chinese retailer Shein lacks disclosures, made false statements about factories – Reuters
Shein is falling short of modern slavery reporting rules according to new report – TFL
The US is investigating Shein over alleged ties to forced labor in China – Quartz
Shein Is the World’s Most Popular Fashion Brand—at a Huge Cost to Us All – Time
Will they change?
Not so far, no acknowledgment of the overwhelming evidence of issues in their supply chain makes it hard to imagine they even want to change. Furthermore, they have made efforts to fabricate compliance, as reported by Reuters, and relying on forced labor seems to be part of their current operations plan.
Shein has responded on Tik Tok saying it doesn’t allow forced labor, and they have made several statements to the media to that effect, which further reinforces that they don’t plan or are unable to address the issues.
Regardless it’s unlikely to change practices; fast fashion relies on outdated supply chains
Forced labor is everywhere; LA, with a long history of textile manufacturing, still uncovers forced labor factories; as recently as 2021, garment factory workers were discovered working for wages as low as 2 dollars an hour in illegal working conditions.
Fast fashion is plagued by reliance on wages too low to survive and cheap materials for a fast turnaround.
Fast fashion relies on questionable chemicals & degrades the environment
Shein and other companies have come under fire as numerous chemicals have been found that cause cancer in their clothing. According to Business Insider: “Fast-fashion company Shein recently reiterated its commitment to product safety after social media outcry over chemicals in the brand’s clothes. …. Experts told Insider consumers many fashion brands use toxic chemicals like PFAS and phthalates”.
Is it worse, Amazon – I heard people pee in bottles
Yes – workers have no choice in many situations and work 18-hour shifts daily – frequently washing their hair at lunch. They may get 1 day off a month and up to $500 a month if they don’t mess up too many clothes. This is if the workers are even paid at all or are adults. The labor practices are so bad they are illegal in most of the places they are happening; even in countries that are not known for worker protection like China – labor laws are being violated.