Owner of Uniqlo and Zara accused of profiting from forced labour of Uyghur minorities

Workers at a fast fashion factory in Indonesia, such places are often accused of human rights violations in the area of forced labour
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This article was updated at 13:10 on Sunday 21st May 2023 to distinguish that Uniqlo is owned by Japanese company Fast Retailing, and that the current court case has been filed in France.

Inditex, the owner of clothing giant Zara, and Japanese-owned Uniqlo are among clothing brands with a complaint filed against them in a court in France. Rights groups announced that the complaint includes allegations of crimes against humanity, aggravated reduction to servitude, genocide, and human trafficking. Inditex is accused of allegedly profiting from forced labour of the Uyghur minority in China.

The complaint was filed by anticorruption association Sherpa and the Ethique sur l’etiquette (Ethics on Labels) collective. They were joined by the European Uyghur Institute and a Uyghur woman who had been held in a camp in China’s far west region of Xinjiang. An investigating judge is expected to be appointed in response to the filing.

Forced labour

The complainants say they want to bring to light:

the possible responsibilities of clothing multinationals who profit from the forced labour of Uyghurs for the production of their products.

A previous case filed to the national anti-terror prosecutor’s office in Paris was dropped. It was decided that it lacked “jurisdiction to prosecute the facts contained in the complaint.” That case was also looking into alleged crimes against humanity. In that instance a number of clothing brands including Uniqlo France were accused of marketing products that were made at least part in factories where Uyghur people were subjected to forced labour. Other major brands, such as Nike have faced similar accusations.

Inditex said the latest accusations were “unfounded”. A spokesperson said:

Read on...

The company has rigorous traceability controls to ensure the provenance of its products and a zero-tolerance policy towards any kind of forced labor.

Widespread abuse

Rights groups say more than one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been held in what the Chinese government calls “re-education camps” in Xinjiang. They have also described the facilities as vocational centres designed to curb extremism.

A 2020 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that:

The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghur and other ethnic minority citizens from the far west region of Xinjiang to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen.

The report concluded that:

Foreign governments, businesses and civil society groups should identify opportunities to increase pressure on the Chinese government to end the use of Uyghur forced labour and extrajudicial detentions.

A report from Human Rights Watch found that crimes against humanity perpetrated against Uyghur Muslims included:

imprisonment or other deprivation of liberty in violation of international law; persecution of an identifiable ethnic or religious group; enforced disappearance; torture; murder; and alleged inhumane acts intentionally causing great suffering or serious injury to mental or physical health, notably forced labor and sexual violence.

Result awaits

As the current case unfolds, the plaintiffs’ lawyer William Bourdon hopes the French justice system will recognise their claim:

on the basis of concealing crimes against humanity.

He added:

Textile companies must account for having knowingly enriched themselves, at the cost of the most serious international crimes.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Featured image by Rio Lecatompessy/Unsplash

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  • Show Comments
    1. Ah the French company having slaves and more oh dear whot about our government who use slave labour to stack shelves at these charity shops local shops too yet nothings is done about this jeff3

    2. Xinjiang and it’s neighbour Muslim region Gansu are almost a third of the geographical size of China. America has stated openly in the recent past that if they can undermine these regions, they can undermine China. The USA wanted to create a Syria style war inside China and have pursued this aim with money and support to nationalist organisations such as the East Turkistan Islamic Movement. This organisation was removed from the USA list of terrorist organisations in 2020 for this reason. For a good understanding of the Uyghur relationship with China read https://journals.openedition.org/chinaperspectives/648 and/or the 1998 report by the John Hopkins University “The problem with Xinjiang” easily found on the internet. Claims of forced labour have not stood up to scrutiny and have the effect of undermining industries inside Xinjiang and damaging the economy of the region and the jobs of people living there to the benefit of Western countries.

    3. As other readers seem to be aware, the probity of the sources that are quoted in this piece is not stated. For example, who funds Sherpa, the European Uyghur Institute, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Human Rights Watch? How do their activities coincide with the geopolitical strategy of the US government? Sadly, Ms Jameela didn’t explore these aspects in her brief and superficial report, a failure which places Canary in with the corporate media from which it claims to be separate. Good, independent and fearless journalism is just as rare on this site as on the Guardian, the WaPo or the NYT.

    4. A sloppy piece, anyone familiar with the current US mega-funded psyops on all things China Bad would have spotted all the tell tales easily, such as the use of conditionals like ‘allegedly’ or ‘possible’ etc. There is basically nothing of substance that can be pinned on anything in this article.
      Another clue is citing dubious sources like ASPI & HRW whose officers have all declared their antipathy towards the PRC.
      If the Canary is to achieve any credibility beyond the mainstream, it should host articles of proper investigative journalism* & not follow misrepresentation which already floods the mainstream Establishment propaganda masquerading as news.
      *Some suggestions (on PRC matters) – Jerry Grey, Pearls & Irritations (John Menadue), the Australian Citizens Party (Robbie Barwick), Tricontinental (Vijay Prashad – they cover global affairs & have a very good knowledge of the PRC at ground level)
      On so called Uyghur genocide – Jaq James (co-west-pro)
      Check out the recent discussion between Jerry Grey with Fernando Munoz on JG’s YT platform titled ‘Adrian Zenz 2023’ which he posted earlier today.

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