Fashion groups face new Uyghur forced labour complaint in France

·3-min read
Beijing has been accused of sending more than a million Uyghurs and other mostly-Muslim minorities to re-education camps
Beijing has been accused of sending more than a million Uyghurs and other mostly-Muslim minorities to re-education camps

Rights groups announced on Wednesday they had filed a new complaint in France against clothing giants including Uniqlo and Zara owner Inditex for allegedly profiting from forced labour of the Uyghur minority in China.

The complaint, filed on Tuesday, includes allegations of crimes against humanity, aggravated reduction to servitude, genocide and human trafficking.

The companies denied using forced labour in their supply chains.

The complaint was filed by anticorruption association Sherpa, the Ethique sur l'etiquette (Ethics on Labels) collective, the European Uyghur Institute and a Uyghur woman who had been held in a camp in China's far west region of Xinjiang.

An investigating judge is expected to be appointed in response to the filing.

The complainants say they want to bring to light "the possible responsibilities of clothing multinationals who profit from the forced labour of Uyghurs for the production of their products", particularly cotton items.

A previous case filed to the national anti-terror prosecutor's office in Paris, which looks into purported crimes against humanity, was dropped in April because it lacks "jurisdiction to prosecute the facts contained in the complaint".

They had accused Uniqlo France, a subsidiary of Fast Retailing, along with Inditex, the Spanish owner of Zara and other brands, the French fashion group SMCP, and footwear manufacturer Skechers of marketing products that were manufactured at least in part at factories where Uyghurs are subjected to forced labour, according to rights groups.

The plaintiffs believe the companies do not have sufficient control over their subcontractors.

- 'Zero-tolerance policy' -

The plaintiffs' lawyer William Bourdon hopes the French justice system will recognise their claim "on the basis of concealing crimes against humanity."

"Textile companies must account for having knowingly enriched themselves, at the cost of the most serious international crimes", contrary to the ethical facade they present, he said.

In addition to the four companies, other major brands such as Nike have faced similar accusations.

Rights groups say more than one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been held in re-education camps in Xinjiang, with a slew of abuses that include forced labour.

Beijing denies the accusations, describing the facilities as vocational centres designed to curb extremism.

Inditex said the latest accusations were "unfounded".

"The company has rigorous traceability controls to ensure the provenance of its products and a zero-tolerance policy towards any kind of forced labor," Inditex said.

Fast Retailing said it had no been notified by the authorities but that, if and when it happens, it "will cooperate fully with the investigation to reaffirm there is no forced labour in our supply chains".

SMCP said it had "already denied with the greatest firmness these accusations".

It added that it expected its name would be dropped, as it had been following previous allegations stemming from a March 2020 report by Australian NGO Strategic Policy Institute, which ultimately removed SMCP and other groups from its findings.

Washington and lawmakers in other Western nations have called the crackdown in Xinjiang a "genocide" of Uyghurs and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has referred to their treatment as crimes against humanity.

gd/pa/rhl/jj