French fashion firms in China abuse probe

·3-min read

French prosecutors have opened an investigation into four fashion retailers suspected of concealing "crimes against humanity" in China's Xinjiang region, a judicial source says.

The procedure is linked to accusations against China over its treatment of minority Muslim Uighurs in the region, including the use of forced labour, the source said.

China denies all accusations of abuse in the region.

The source told Reuters that Uniqlo France, a unit of Japan's Fast Retailing; Zara owner Inditex; France's SMCP and Skechers were the subject of the investigation, confirming a report by French media website Mediapart.

"An investigation has been opened by the crimes against humanity unit within the anti-terrorism prosecutor's office following the filing of a complaint," the source said.

France has a central office to fight crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes, founded in 2013.

Inditex said it rejected the claims, adding it conducted rigorous traceability controls and would fully co-operate with the French investigation.

"At Inditex, we have zero tolerance for all forms of forced labour 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 co-operate with the French authorities to prove the allegations false.

"SMCP works with suppliers located all over the world and maintains that it does not have direct suppliers in the region mentioned in the press," SMCP said, adding it regularly audits its suppliers.

Fast Retailing said in a statement from Tokyo it had not been contacted by French authorities and none of its production partners are located in Xinjiang.

"If and when notified, we will co-operate fully with the investigation to reaffirm there is no forced labour in our supply chains," it said.

The company lost an appeal with US Customs in May after a shipment of Uniqlo men's shirts were impounded because of suspected violations of a ban on Xinjiang cotton.

Skechers said it does not comment on pending litigation, referring to a March 2021 statement in which it said it maintained a strict supplier code of conduct.

Two NGOs filed a complaint in France in early April against multinationals for concealment of forced labour and crimes against humanity.

United Nations experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in China's western Xinjiang region.

Many former inmates have said they were subject to ideological training and abuse.

Rights groups say the camps have been used as a source of low-paid and coercive labour.

China initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres designed to combat extremism. In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had "graduated".

Several Western brands including H&M, Burberry and Nike have been hit by consumer boycotts in China after raising concerns about reports of forced labour in Xinjiang.

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