The anti-corruption association Sherpa, the Ethique sur l’étiquette collective, the Uyghur Institute of Europe (IODE) and a Uyghur woman who was interned in Xinjiang province (north-western China) are targeting the offences of concealment of four crimes: crimes against humanity, genocide, aggravated reduction to servitude and trafficking in human beings as part of an organised gang.
The complaint, filed on Tuesday, should lead to the appointment of an investigating judge.
The plaintiffs want to uncover “the possible responsibilities of multinational clothing companies that profit from the forced labour of Uyghurs for the manufacture of their products”, stating that “one cotton garment in five could be tainted by the forced labour of Uyghurs”.
The crimes against humanity unit of the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office (Pnat) closed a preliminary investigation in April, which was opened in June 2021 after an initial complaint, causing “incomprehension” among the complainants.
They accused Uniqlo France (owned by the Japanese group Fast Retailing), Inditex (which owns the brands Zara, Bershka, Massimo Duti), SMCP (Sandro, Maje, de Fursac…) and the shoe manufacturer Skechers of marketing products manufactured in whole or in part in factories where Uighurs are subjected, according to these associations, to forced labour.
Their number is sometimes estimated at more than one million. The plaintiffs also believe that these companies do not justify sufficient controls on their subcontractors.
Their lawyer, William Bourdon, hopes that the French justice system will “recognise the competence” of the case “on the basis of concealment of crimes against humanity.
“The textile companies will have to account for having knowingly enriched themselves, at the cost of the most serious international crimes, on the back of a purely facade of ethical communication,” he added.
At the time of the first complaint, the four groups had denied any use of forced labour. In addition to these four names, other major groups (Nike, Adidas, Shein, etc.) are targeted by similar accusations.
Washington and several other countries have accused the Uighur Muslim minority of “genocide” and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights of crimes against humanity.
These accusations are rejected by Beijing, which presents the re-education centres denounced by the West as vocational training centres designed to combat religious extremism and ensure social stability. (AFP)
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