Uniqlo, Skechers and Zara investigated in demand for forced Uyghur labor
French prosecutors have opened an investigation into alleged involvement in crimes against humanity based on claims that global retailers, including Uniqlo and makers of Skechers footwear and Zara clothing, depend on forced labor by minorities in the Chinese region of Xinjiang.
The Chinese government reiterated on Friday that it denies any forced labor in Xinjiang and attacked what it called interference in its internal affairs.
The investigation was opened last month by the crimes against humanity unit of the French anti-terrorism prosecution, a judicial official said on Friday. The office has special universal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes beyond French borders.
The investigation was based on a complaint filed in France earlier this year by an exiled Uyghur worker and three human rights groups: Sherpa, the Uyghur Institute of Europe and Ethics on the Label Collective.
The investigation does not name an alleged perpetrator but aims to determine who could be at fault and face possible charges of involvement in crimes against humanity, the judicial official said. Such a procedure is standard in French law. The official was not allowed to be publicly named.
The lawsuit names Japanese retailer Uniqlo, US shoemaker Skechers, French company SMCP and Spanish retailer Inditex, owner of Zara. Rights groups say companies benefit from a Chinese crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
China has faced criticism and sanctions for detaining over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities for political re-education in the northwestern Xinjiang region, and for imprisoning or intimidating to silence those she sees as potential opponents of Tibet in Hong Kong.
Uniqlo said in a statement to the PA on Friday that he had not been officially informed of the investigation but would cooperate fully with French authorities “to reaffirm that there is no forced labor in our supply chains “.
The company said none of its production partners are located in Xinjiang. “There was no evidence of forced labor or any other human rights violation at any of our suppliers. If there is any evidence, we will stop doing business with this supplier, ”he said.
Skechers, headquartered in Manhattan Beach, said earlier this year that regular audits of its facilities in China have found no signs of forced labor.
Inditex states on its website that it takes “a zero tolerance approach to forced labor in all its manifestations and we are implementing policies and procedures to ensure that this practice does not take place anywhere in our area. supply chain “.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Friday, “We have repeatedly pointed out that the so-called ‘forced labor’ in Xinjiang is a lie concocted by a small number of anti-Chinese elements. from the United States and a few other countries, with the aim of disrupting Xinjiang and containing China.
“We firmly oppose any external force interfering in China’s internal affairs through Xinjiang-related issues,” he continued.
Human rights groups celebrated the French investigation and expressed hope that it will help shed light on what is happening in Xinjiang.
Joe McDonald in Beijing and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed.