France’s National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT) opened a criminal investigation for ‘crimes against humanity’ against four clothing manufacturing companies including Spanish brand Zara and Japanese brand Uniqlo for using slave labor from Xinjiang province.
The criminal investigation was opened in April by the Crimes Against Humanity Unit of the National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT) on a complaint filed by the European Uyghur Institute, the anti-corruption association Sherpa, the Ethics in Labels collective, and a Uighur woman who was detained in a concentration camp in Xinjiang province, Sudouest reported.
“This is just the start, this investigation will necessarily create a legal risk and additional accountability for all those who, with complete impunity, thought they could import into France, in order to enrich themselves, resources and products at the cost of tears and blood,” said plaintiff lawyer Dr. William Bourdon.
The other two brands involved are Skechers, which manufactures sneakers, and SMCP, owners of the Sandro, Maje and Fursac brands.
The plaintiffs based their complaint on a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published in March 2020 which states that more than one million Uighurs, considered an ethnic minority in China, have disappeared in the network of forced labor camps in Xinjiang province and China in general.
“Inside the camps, detainees are subjected to political indoctrination, forced to renounce their religion and culture and, in some instances, reportedly subjected to torture,” the report said. “In the name of combating ‘religious extremism’, Chinese authorities have been actively remoulding the Muslim population in the image of China’s Han ethnic majority.”
What are the charges
The garment manufacturers are charged among other things with “concealing the crime of systematic human trafficking” or “concealing the crime of genocide and crime against humanity.”
Spokespersons for the factories have strongly denied that their products have any link to the exploitation of Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Uniqlo claims that its factories are located in Anhui province (ironically it has an advertisement boasting that they use ‘superior cotton’ from Xinjiang) and Skechers says its factories are in the south in Guangdong province. However, according to the ASPI report, Uighurs are moved from one region to another to perform slave labor. And a video apparently recorded by a drone released in 2019 may well be evidence of these relocations.
Add to that, 85% of cotton production is produced in Xinjiang province and China is the fifth largest producer of all cotton globally, making it very difficult to manufacture clothing in China without being linked to abuses by the Chinese communist regime.
Companies also claim to conduct regular audits to ensure that there are no inadequate conditions in their factories.
However, according to Human Rights Watch China director Sophie Richardson, the auditors have to give plenty of notice for factory managers to prepare the environment, as well as not allowing ’employees’ to reveal how many hours they work, and how much money they earn (most of the time slave labor is unpaid in China).
“Political repression in the Xinjiang region is so pervasive that labour inspectors cannot interview workers freely without fear of reprisals,” said Ms. Richardson.
Tip of an iceberg
The Chinese Communist Party’s abuses in the Xinjiang region picked up steam during Donald Trump’s tenure as president of the United States.
From banning tomatoes and cotton to declaring that what is happening to the Uighurs is genocide, the Administration led international condemnation against the CCP.
Australia, Canada, and the European Parliament followed suit and made public condemnations against the Chinese regime for its treatment of the Uighurs.
However, there are reports from 2002 of Falun Dafa practitioners claiming to have been imprisoned for their faith and forced to make stuffed animals for Nestlé.
It is estimated that Falun Dafa practitioners have around 100 millions members in Mainland China.
Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald detailed the forced labor of 35-year-old Falun Gong practitioner Jennifer Zeng, who was illegally detained for a year in Beijing’s Xin’an labor camp. Jennifer was one of 130 prisoners forced to work from 5:30 to past midnight, 7 days a week, producing long-eared, buck-toothed, Nestle-branded toy rabbits, the report explains.
Jennifer Zeng gave a detailed description of the toys that she said Falun Gong prisoners were forced to make in inhumane conditions, toys that she subsequently identified on various Nestlé websites.
In 2012, Party leader Xi Jinping shut down what was known as the ‘re-education through labor’ system by which the regime profited from the labor of its prisoners of conscience.
However, witnesses say that some of these places simply changed their names to continue subjecting innocent people to making unpaid products for export and making fortunes from the blood of these people.