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France launches investigation against fashion giants for sourcing goods from China’s Xinjiang, says report

Uyghurs in Chinese detention camps (IANS photo)

French media is reporting that the country's prosecutors have launched an investigation into four popular fashion giants who are being accused of concealing crimes against humanity by sourcing goods produced by the forced Uyghur labour in China's Xinjiang.

Quoting a report from Mediapart, an independent French online investigative journal, UK daily Guardian said that the investigation concerned Uniqlo France, owned by Fast Retailing; Inditex, which owns Zara and Bershka; SMCP, the owner of the French fashion labels Sandro and Maje; and the footwear company Skechers. 

The journal said that investigation was launched at the end of June following a complaint made on April 12 by an Uyghur activist and three organisations – Sherpa, the Collectif Ethique sur l’étiquette and the Uyghur Institute of Europe

The complaint lodged with the Paris Prosecutor Office against multinationals in the garment industry said that they may be involved, through their suppliers, in the forced labour imposed on the Uyghur population.

Sherpa had said that the complaint shed light on the role played by multinational companies in the crimes committed against the Uyghur people and would enable French courts to rule on their possible criminal liability.

"The complaint targets a large number of brands and distributors in the fashion sector and exposes the impunity of transnational corporations that profit from these crimes through their modus operandi and business model," Sherpa had said in a statement in April. 

Mediapart, which broke the news Thursday, said that it will be for the first time that the French justice department will be dealing with a case linked to the ruthless repression of Turkish-speaking ethnic minorities. 

The complainant organisations say that it is the the first of a series of filings organized by the  European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) that will be filed in the coming months in other European countries.  

"Victory! Our complaint against multinationals that we filed last April with 2 NGOs and a survivor was retained and the Paris prosecutor's office opened a judicial investigation against these large groups for concealment of crimes against humanity," tweeted Dilnur Reyhan, President of the Uyghur Institute of Europe.

Sherpa said that the multinational companies "must not with impunity profit" from the forced labour of Uyghurs.

In 2013, France had created the Central Office for the Fight against Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide and War Crimes (OCLCH) to fight against the most serious international crimes and the forms of crime related to them or in the fight against hatred and intolerance towards members of certain groups.

Attached to the Judicial Police Subdirectorate (SDPJ) of the General Directorate of the National Gendarmerie (DGGN) and commanded by a colonel of the National Gendarmerie, the OCLCH is an interministerial judicial police service placed at the central level.

It is made up of gendarmes, police officers and agents made available by the Ministry of the Armed Forces and any other administration with expertise in the fight against the most serious international crimes and the forms of crime related to them or in the fight against hatred and intolerance towards members of certain groups.

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