PARIS, July 1 (Reuters) – The French prosecution has opened an investigation into four fashion retailers suspected of covering up “crimes against humanity” in China’s Xinjiang region, a judicial source said on Thursday.
The proceedings are linked to charges against China for its treatment of minority Muslim Uyghurs in the region, including the use of forced labor, the source said.
China denies all accusations of abuse in the region.
The source told Reuters that Uniqlo France, a unit of Japanese Fast Retailing (9983.T), owner of Zara Inditex (ITX.MC), French SMCP (SMCP.PA) and Skechers (SKX.N) were doing the subject of the investigation, confirming a report from the French media site Mediapart.
“An investigation was opened by the crimes against humanity cell within the anti-terrorism prosecution following the filing of a complaint,” said the source.
France has a Central Office for the fight against crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes, created in 2013.
Inditex said it rejects the allegations of the legal complaint, adding that it has carried out rigorous traceability checks and will 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 this practice does not take place in our supply chain,” the company said in a statement.
SMCP said it would cooperate with French authorities to prove the allegations were false.
“SMCP works with suppliers located all over the world and claims to have no direct suppliers in the region mentioned in the press,” said SMCP, adding that it regularly audits its suppliers.
Fast Retailing said in a statement from Tokyo that it had not been contacted by French authorities and that none of its production partners are located in Xinjiang.
“If and when we are informed, we will fully cooperate with the investigation to reaffirm that there is no forced labor in our supply chains,” he said.
The company lost a case at US customs in May after a shipment of Uniqlo men’s shirts was seized over alleged violations of Xinjiang’s cotton ban. Read more
Skechers said he is not commenting on the pending litigation. He referred Reuters to a March 2021 statement in which he said he maintained a strict supplier code of conduct.
Two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) lodged a complaint in France in early April against multinationals for concealment of forced labor and crimes against humanity.
United Nations experts and rights groups estimate that more than a million people, mostly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a large camp system in the western Xinjiang region. in China.
Many former detainees said they had been subjected to ideological training and abuse. Rights groups say the camps have been used as a source of coercive and poorly paid labor.
China initially denied the existence of the camps, but has since said they were vocational training centers designed to counter extremism. At the end of 2019, China declared that all people in the camps were “graduates.”
Several Western brands including H&M (HMb.ST), Burberry (BRBY.L) and Nike (NKE.N) have been the victims of consumer boycotts in China after raising concerns over reports of forced labor in China. Xinjiang. Read more
In March, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, citing human rights violations in Xinjiang. Beijing immediately retaliated with its own punitive measures. Read more
Human Rights Watch this year documented what it believes may constitute crimes against humanity committed in Xinjiang.
Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten in Paris Additional reporting by Richard Lough in Paris, Jesus Aguado in Madrid and Rocky Swift in Tokyo. Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Matthew Lewis
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