France probes fashion retailers for concealing ‘crimes against humanity’ in Xinjiang

    French prosecutors have launched an investigation into four fashion retailers suspected of hiding “crimes against humanity” in China’s Xinjiang region, a court source said on Thursday.

    The process is linked to accusations against China of treating minority Muslim Uighurs in the region, including the use of forced labor, the source said.

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    China denies all allegations of abuse in the region.

    The source told Reuters Uniqlo France, a Japanese Fast Retailing unit (9983.T), owner Zara Inditex (ITX.MC), SMCP France (SMCP.PA) and Skechers (SKX.N) were the target. of the research, confirming a report from the French website Mediapart.

    “An investigation has been launched by the Crimes Against Humanity Unit into the Office of the Prosecutor for Terrorism following a complaint,” the source said.

    France has a headquarters for the fight against crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes, established in 2013.

    Inditex said it had denied the allegations in the lawsuit, adding that it had carried out “strict traceability checks” and would cooperate fully with the French investigation.

    “At Inditex, we have zero tolerance for all forms of forced labor and have established policies and procedures to ensure that this practice does not take place in our supply chain,” the company said in a statement.

    The SMCP said it would work with the French authorities to prove the allegations false.

    “SMCP works with suppliers around the world and maintains that it has no direct suppliers in the area mentioned in the press release,” SMCP said, adding that it regularly monitors its suppliers.

    Fast Retailing said in a statement in Tokyo that it had not contacted the French authorities and that none of the production partners were in Xinjiang.

    “If and when notified, we will cooperate fully with the investigation to confirm that there is no forced labor in our supply chains,” he said.

    The company lost an appeal to U.S. customs in May after filing a shipment of Uniqlo men’s shirts on suspicion of violating the Xinjiang cotton ban.

    Skechers said it did not comment on outstanding disputes. He told Reuters in a March 2021 statement that he maintained a strict code of conduct for suppliers.

    Two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) filed a complaint in France in early April against multinationals for concealing forced labor and crimes against humanity.

    UN experts and rights groups estimate that more than a million people, mostly Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, have been held in recent years in a vast camp system in western China’s Xinjiang region.

    Many former detainees stated that they had suffered ideological training and abuse. Rights groups say the camps have been used as a source of low-wage and forced labor.

    China initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are business centers designed to fight extremism. In late 2019, China said all the people in the camps had “graduated.”

    Several Western brands, such as H&M (HMb.ST), Burberry (BRBY.L) and Nike (NKE.N), have been hit by a consumer boycott in China following concerns over forced labor reports in Xinjiang. read more

    In March, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, citing human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Beijing responded immediately with its own criminal measures.

    Human Rights Watch this year documented what it said could constitute crimes against humanity committed in Xinjiang.

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