Paris, 2 July 2021 – The French judiciary announced yesterday that it has opened an investigation into the crime of concealment of crimes against humanity, following the complaint filed by our organizations and a Uyghur victim, represented by Bourdon & Associés on April 9th. It targets several multinational garment and footwear companies for their alleged ties with factories involved in the forced labour imposed on the population in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. This good news is an important first step towards holding clothing giants accountable for the exploitation of the Uyghur people, from which they may be profiting.
This complaint shows the existence of commercial links of at least 4 companies, Inditex (which owns brands such as Zara, Bershka, Pull and Bear, Massimo Duti), Uniqlo, SMCP (which owns brands such as Sandro, Maje, Claudie Pierlot, De Fursac) and Skechers USA, as well as many others, with several economic entities in the Uyghur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, where the population is subjected to forced labour.
Numerous European brands and labels, present in our daily lives, could thus market and profit from goods manufactured by means of the enslavement of Uyghurs. The enrichment of these companies, knowingly to the detriment of human rights, often comes with ethical commitments, all the more voluntarily formulated as they have no binding value.
Our organizations have filed this complaint to shed some light on the role played by multinational companies in this situation and to enable the French courts to rule on their possible criminal liability.
The announcement of the French judiciary coincides with the tabling on June 30th by French parliamentarians of a motion for a resolution aiming to have France recognize the genocide in the Uyghur region.
This complaint is part of our organizations’ long-standing advocacy work to fight against the impunity of transnational corporations and to ensure access to justice and compensation for victims.
While business lobbies, including clothing companies are fiercely fighting against any attempt at introducing judicial accountability in the context of the discussions around a European directive on the duty of vigilance of parent companies, it is crucial to recall that the most powerful actors in globalization cannot escape their duty to respect fundamental human rights in order to make a profit.
“We welcome the opening of a preliminary investigation into the handling and profiting of crimes against humanity, which demonstrates the potential involvement of economic actors in the commission of the most serious crimes in order to increase their profit margins. By choosing to subcontract their production in the Xinjiang region, companies could benefit from the crimes against humanity committed against Uyghur workers.This investigation will allow the courts to decide on the possible criminal liabilities of these companies.” says Sandra Cossart, Sherpa’s executive director.
“The opening of this preliminary investigation is an important first signal to the multinationals in the sector. Under public pressure, they communicate their opposition to forced labour, but in practice none of them have committed to withdraw from the region or to shed light on their supply chain. It is time to confront them with their actions,” says Nayla Ajaltouni, coordinator of the Collectif Ethique sur l’étiquette.
“This is excellent news that came at the same time as the tabling of a resolution in the National Assembly by MPs to recognise the genocidal nature of Chinese crimes against the Uyghur people. This can strengthen our campaign to have France recognise the Uyghur genocide,” says Dilnur Reyhan, President of the Uyghur Institute of Europe.
This is the first time that an investigation for “concealment of crimes against humanity” has been opened against multinationals. This historic precedent confirms the need to carry out innovative work to shift position lines on the law in order to fight against the economic actors’ impunity.
> Press contacts
Diane Zeegers – Sherpa
Nayla Ajaltouni – Ethique sur l’Etiquette
Dilnur Reyhan – European Uyghur Institute