The French State Prosecutor’s Office has officially launched an investigation into four major international clothing and footwear giants, including Uniqlo of Japan and Sketchers of the United States, for “concealing crimes against humanity” after allegedly making a fortune from the fruits of forced labor of Uyghurs in China.
In early April, the French anti-corruption association Sherpa, the ethics group Ethique sur l’étiquette, the Institute of Uyghurs in Europe (IODE) and a Uyghur woman who was held in a concentration in Xinjiang filed a complaint with the French judiciary, and the French National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office officially launched an investigation in late June.
Based on an investigation published in March 2020 by the Australian strategic policy institute, the French civil society organization accused Japan’s Uniqlo, the world’s second largest fashion group, which owns Zara, Spain’s Inditex, SMCP, and U.S. Skechers footwear companies sell and market products produced in factories where some or all of the Uighurs are forced to work.
The prosecution argues that the companies did not make sufficient efforts to ensure that their subcontractors provided goods that were in no way produced by Uighurs in Xinjiang who were subjected to forced labor.
Spain’s Yingdid Group, which has been accused of being involved with manufacturers of wool and cloth from Xinjiang, denies it, and Japan’s Uniqlo, which has publicly objected to the use of labor-produced products from Xinjiang, has been accused of acquiring textiles in another Chinese province, Anhui, where it has been noted that thousands of Uyghurs were transferred to produce clothing.
The manufacturer, SMCP, is the majority shareholder of Topsoho, a company owned by China’s Shandong Ruyi Group, which, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Research Office, has had a factory in Xinjiang since 2010. SMCP denied the allegations after learning of a French judicial investigation against it, but said it would cooperate fully with the French judiciary.
The U.S.-based Sketchers Group used to manufacture footwear in factories in Guangdong, and according to the prosecution, it is possible that the Uighurs working in those factories were forced laborers transferred from Xinjiang to Guangdong.
Lawyers for the prosecution said that the French judicial investigation sets a precedent and that manufacturers who do this for profit and without regard for human rights will henceforth risk justice and will be held accountable for their actions.
Raphaël Glucksmann, the European parliamentarian sanctioned by Beijing, accused these multinational groups of “enjoying the fruits of Uighur forced labor” and “introducing crimes against humanity into our daily lives.