France Confronts Fresh Allegations of Uyghur Forced Labor in Fashion Industry

by Anne Kader

By Alex Chen

Image: Michal Jarmoluk

 

On Wednesday, human rights organizations revealed that they have lodged a fresh complaint in France targeting major clothing brands such as Uniqlo and Inditex, the parent company of Zara. The complaint alleges that these companies have knowingly benefited from the forced labor of the Uyghur minority in China.

 

This recently filed complaint, submitted on Tuesday, encompasses grave accusations including crimes against humanity, aggravated servitude, genocide, and human trafficking.

 

Fashion companies deny involvement in forced labor as new complaint emerges.In response to the recently filed complaint by anti-corruption association Sherpa, the Ethics on Labels collective, the European Uyghur Institute, and a Uyghur survivor who experienced detention in a camp in Uyghuristan region, the accused clothing companies have vehemently denied any association with forced labor within their supply chains.

As the complaint awaits further action, it is anticipated that an investigating judge will be assigned to examine the allegations and gather necessary evidence.

 

The individuals filing the complaint aim to shed light on the potential accountability of multinational fashion companies that reap profits from the forced labor of Uyghur workers, specifically in the production of cotton-based products. By raising these concerns, they seek to expose the role played by these companies in perpetuating and benefiting from such labor practices.

 

In April, a prior case concerning alleged crimes against humanity, filed with the national anti-terror prosecutor’s office in Paris, was dismissed due to the office’s assertion that it lacked the jurisdiction required to prosecute the specific allegations outlined in the complaint. As a result, the case was not pursued further by the authorities.

 

Rights groups have leveled allegations against several fashion companies, including Uniqlo France (a subsidiary of Fast Retailing), Inditex (the Spanish parent company of Zara and other brands), French fashion group SMCP, and footwear manufacturer Skechers. These groups assert that these companies have marketed products that were produced, at least partially, in factories where Uyghur individuals are subjected to forced labor.

 

The plaintiffs hold the belief that the accused companies lack adequate control over their subcontractors, which has allowed the alleged exploitation of Uyghur forced labor to occur within their supply chains.Their lawyer, William Bourdon, expressed his hopes that the French justice system will acknowledge their claims based on the concealment of crimes against humanity. The plaintiffs seek recognition and accountability for the alleged human rights violations in question.

 

According to their lawyer, the textile companies must be held accountable for knowingly profiting from grave international crimes, contradicting the ethical image they project. He emphasized that their actions have come at the expense of these crimes.

 

Apart from the four mentioned companies, other prominent brands like Nike have also faced comparable allegations.

 

Human rights organizations report that over a million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim minorities have been detained in re-education camps in Uyghuristan, where various abuses, including forced labor, have been prevalent.

 

Beijing has denied the allegations, asserting that the facilities in question are vocational centers aimed at countering extremism rather than sites of human rights abuses.

Inditex, in response to the latest accusations, has labeled them as “unfounded,” indicating a disagreement with the claims made against the company.

 

Inditex responded to the allegations by stating that the company implements robust traceability controls to guarantee the origin of its products and maintains a zero-tolerance policy towards any form of forced labor. They assert their commitment to ensuring ethical practices throughout their supply chains.

 

Fast Retailing acknowledged that they have not yet received any official notification from the authorities regarding the investigation. However, they emphasized their willingness to fully cooperate if and when such notification is received, aiming to affirm that there is no presence of forced labor within their supply chains.

 

SMCP responded to the allegations by stating that it had already vehemently denied the accusations. The company expressed confidence that its name would once again be cleared, just as it was in previous instances when it was removed from the findings of a March 2020 report by the Australian NGO Strategic Policy Institute.

 

The actions taken in Uyghuristan have been characterized as a “genocide” of the Uyghur population by Washington and lawmakers in various Western nations. Furthermore, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described the treatment of the Uyghurs as constituting crimes against humanity. These strong condemnations reflect the serious concerns and international recognition of the gravity of the situation in Uyghuristan.

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