Today, NGOs Sherpa, the Collectif Ethique sur l’étiquette and the Uyghur Institute of Europe as well as an Uyghur survivor filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Paris against several multinational garment companies. The organizations allege that French textile brands and retailers are directly or indirectly encouraging and profiting from forced labor of the Uyghur minority through China. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights supports the complaint.
According to the complaint, known international brands like Uniqlo or the cooperation Inditex (including its flagship brand Zara) as well as French retailers could be involved in these crimes that might qualify as crimes against humanity. Hundreds of thousands of the Uyghur population in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are forced by the Chinese government to work in the garment industry, namely in the areas of cotton and yarn supply as well as ready-made garments. European companies source from companies in the region and therefore possibly profit from the human rights violations in the XUAR textile industry – and thus support these illegal practices. With the complaint filed in France, the French public prosecutor should now investigate the responsibility of European companies.
“Europe is often quick to criticize China for human rights violations. But European companies finally have to admit – and end – their own involvement in these international crimes,” says Miriam Saage-Maaß, head of ECCHR’s Business and Human Rights program. “We highly welcome the complaint filed in France today. But: This problem is not unique to French garment companies or retailers. All across Europe, the textile industry benefits from the suffering of the Uyghur population. It is mandatory to not only end these practices, but also hold companies to account.”
This complaint is the first of a series of filings organized by ECCHR against European companies for alleged complicity in crimes against humanity. The series of complaints across Europe demonstrates that the involvement in coerced labor in XUAR does not extend to single companies or countries. It highlights the known or at least accepted systematical involvement of European business systematic and state-sponsored forceful exploitation of labor in the XUAR region.