Uniqlo and Zara face new lawsuit in Paris over Uyghur forced labor

ughyur forced labour
Representative photo

Fast Retailing, the parent company of Uniqlo, Inditex (the owner of Zara), and Skechers are facing fresh allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang and other parts of China. The European Uyghur Institute in Paris has filed a second lawsuit, as stated by its president, Dilnur Reyhan. Reyhan accuses multinational retailers operating in Xinjiang of actively participating in the surveillance, management, and construction of camps, as well as overall monitoring of the Uyghur region. The retailers are being blamed for actively ignoring human rights abuses and profiting from forced labor.

European Uyghur Institute files a lawsuit

In a recent interview conducted by Nikkei Asia, Reyhan stated that it is the responsibility of economic players to demonstrate that their products are not tainted by forced labor. In response to dropped charges by the National Anti-Terrorism Prosecution Office after a two-year inquiry into the companies for allegations of concealing crimes against humanity, genocide, forced labor, and human trafficking in Xinjiang, the institute, along with several other non-governmental organizations, has lodged a new complaint at the Tribunal Court of Paris.
The report exposes China’s patronage of human rights abuses and genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. As previously reported, China has established large labor camps where it illegally detains Uyghurs and coerces them into participating in cotton picking. Xinjiang, which accounts for approximately 20% of the world’s cotton production, is at the center of these activities. The lawsuit presents video recordings obtained from Uyghur workers in China as evidence.These videos purportedly show the manufacturing process of Skechers shoes.

The complaint document, which Nikkei Asia has had access to, includes various reports from sources such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the US, academic research, and open-source investigations by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.These reports assert that the authorities forcibly transfer Uyghur workers, subject them to ideological indoctrination, maintain constant surveillance over them, and prohibit them from practicing their religion.

Reyhan indicated to “corporate pressure” and political interests as reasons for the initial charges being dropped. She describes it as “self-censorship on the part of the French authorities and the prosecutor, even before pressure from China.”

Demand for an EU act akin to US’ UFLPA

In response to the allegations, a spokesperson from Fast Retailing emphasized that none of their manufacturing processes take place in Xinjiang. Uniqlo maintains a zero-tolerance policy towards any human rights violation. Although French authorities have not contacted Fast Retailing as of early June, the spokesperson assures that Fast Retailing fully cooperates with the investigation to reaffirm the absence of forced labor in their supply chain.

Skechers has refrained from commenting on pending litigation but pointed to their code of conduct for suppliers, which mandated certification stating the absence of forced labor. The company also claims to conduct strict internal audits of its Chinese suppliers.
Inditex asserted that they have rigorous traceability controls to ensure the origin of their products and emphasizes their zero-tolerance policy towards any form of forced labor.

The European Uyghur Institute highlights the success of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act implemented by Washington. This legislation has resulted in a significant decline in the entry of apparel, footwear, and textiles from China into the United States, about 49 per cent since the third quarter last year. Reyhan has expressed hope that the European Parliament will adopt a stronger stance against goods produced with forced labor.

Notably, the French Senate had already passed a bill that urges the European Union to craft policies based on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act 2021 which banned the imports of Chinese goods that are linked to forced labour.

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