Published: Jul 02, 2021, 03:59 PM(IST)
France has opened an inquiry into allegations four fashion groups profited from the forced labour of the Uyghur minority in China.
Magistrates at the national anti-terror prosecutor’s office in Paris are probing claims the multinational companies are complicit in crimes against humanity, the source said, confirming a report on the Mediapart investigative website.
The case is based on a complaint lodged in April by the anti-corruption group Sherpa, the French branch of the Clean Clothes Campaign, and the Uyghur Institute of Europe, as well as by an Uyghur woman who had been held in a camp in Xinjiang, China.
They accused Inditex, the Spanish owner of Zara and other top brands, Uniqlo, the French fashion group SMCP, and the footwear manufacturer Skechers of using cotton produced in the Xinjiang region.
Activists and U.N. rights experts say at least 1 million Muslims have been detained in camps in Xinjiang. The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labor and sterilisation. China says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
The European Union, United States, Britain and Canada on Monday imposed sanctions on Chinese officials accusing them of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. China retaliated with sanctions on European lawmakers and institutions.
The western province of Xinjiang, home to about 11 million ethnic Uighurs, produces about 85 per cent of China’s cotton and 20 per cent of the global supply, which is used by fashion brands worldwide.
While most brands say they do not source directly from factories in Xinjiang, their supply chains are likely tainted by cotton picked by Uighurs that are exported across China and used by other suppliers.
Several major consumer brands including Uniqlo, H&M, Nike, and Adidas announced last year that they would stop buying cotton from the region, leading to boycott calls in China.
Inditex disputed that it had used cotton from Xinjiang. Its representative said, “The group has strict traceability controls which have allowed us to determine that the allegations in the complaint are unfounded.”
The company has a “zero-tolerance policy for forced labour” and has “procedures in place that guarantee that practice doesn’t exist in our supply chain”, the representative added.
Uniqlo, which has taken a public position against the forced labour of Uyghurs, is alleged to have sourced cotton from the Anhui province where thousands of Uyghur workers have been transferred.
SMCP is alleged to be a shareholder in a firm with factories in Xinjiang, but the company refuted that and said it would work with investigators.
Previously, the Washington-based Center for Global Policy had said in a report it was very likely a major share of cotton from Xinjiang was “tainted with forced labour”.
The Center for Global Policy had also said Chinese government documents and media reports showed at least 570,000 people in three Xinjiang regions were sent to pick cotton under a coercive labour programme targeting ethnic minority groups.