Human rights violations off the rack: Dutch and US brands allegedly rely on forced labor


Amsterdam – The European Center for Constitutional Rights (ECCHR) with the support of Prakken d’Oliveira Human Rights Lawyers submitted a criminal complaint against several Dutch and US textile and fashion brands who have their European headquarters in the Netherlands. They argue that Patagonia, Nike, C&A and State of Art may have been directly or indirectly complicit in the forced labor of members of the Uyghur population in China's Xinjiang province. They ask the Dutch Public Prosecutor to investigate the corporations’ alleged complicity in human rights violations that could amount to crimes against humanity.

“The choice to not only focus on national criminal law regarding labour exploitation, but to broaden the complaint to crimes against humanity, underlines the scale of the crimes that are committed in Xinjian and aligns with statements from politicians and NGOs that have qualified the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang as genocide and crimes against humanity,” says Barbara van Straaten, Human Rights Lawyer, Prakken d'Oliveira.

Alarming reports about torture, re-education camps, and forced labor in the Xinjiang region in China have increased in frequency since 2017. According to Amnesty International, the Chinese government systematically persecutes the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang. Tens of thousands are allegedly forced to harvest cotton and manufacture clothing – which are also sold on the European market. Research reports, as well as publicly available supply chain information disclosed by the investigated brands, explicitly state that the companies have suppliers with production facilities in Xinjiang. 

“It is unacceptable that European governments criticize China for human rights violations while these companies possibly profit from the exploitation of the Uyghur population. It is high time that responsible corporate officers are investigated and – if necessary - held to account,” says Corina Ajder, Legal Advisor, ECCHR.

The Amsterdam-based Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the Netherlands Clean Clothes Campaign (SKC) welcome the filing of the criminal complaint and urge the Dutch public prosecutor to take up the complaint and begin its own investigations. “The eminent lack of supply chain and trade flow transparency makes it very difficult for labor rights organizations to investigate possible violations of workers’ rights. Voluntary corporate initiatives have failed to deliver sufficient transparency and better working conditions in the global garment industry,” says Martje Theuws, Senior Researcher at SOMO.   

The complaint in the Netherlands is part of a series of criminal complaints in Europe against Western brands regarding their alleged involvement in Xinjiang. In September 2021, ECCHR submitted a similar complaint in Germany and in April 2021, we supported a criminal complaint brought by Sherpa in France.



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To counter injustice with legal interventions – this is the aim and daily work of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

ECCHR is an independent, non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to enforcing civil and human rights worldwide. It was founded in 2007 by Wolfgang Kaleck and other international human rights lawyers to protect and enforce the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other human rights declarations and national constitutions, through legal means.

Together with those affected and partners worldwide, ECCHR uses legal means to end impunity for those responsible for torture, war crimes, sexual and gender-based violence, corporate exploitation and fortressed borders.

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