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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale

France drops fashion groups probe over Uyghur forced labour

A demonstrator from the Uyghur Community waves a flag during a protest near the Belgium parliament in Brussels in July 2021. (Illustration photo) © AFP - Kenzo Tribouillard

French magistrates have dropped a probe into allegations that four fashion retailers were sourcing supplies in China involving the forced labour of the Uyghur population.

The national anti-terror prosecutor's office in Paris, which looks into purported crimes against humanity, said it had halted the investigation.

New complaint?

The plaintiffs' lawyer William Bourdon told French news agency AFP they would file a new complaint.

Magistrates had in 2021 started looking into claims the multinational companies, including Uniqlo and the owner of Zara, were complicit in crimes against humanity.

The case was based on a complaint lodged by the anti-corruption group Sherpa, the French branch of the Clean Clothes Campaign, and the Uyghur Institute of Europe, as well as by a Uyghur woman who had been held in a camp in Xinjiang, China.

They accused Inditex, the Spanish owner of Zara and other top brands, Uniqlo, the French fashion group SMCP, and the footwear manufacturer Skechers of using cotton produced in the Xinjiang region.

Rights groups believe at least one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in the Xinjiang region, where China has also been accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.

The allegations followed a March 2020 report by a non-governmental organisation called the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

'Lack of jurisdiction'

On 12 April, the prosecutor's office sent the plaintiffs a letter telling them that it was halting the investigation as it lacks "jurisdiction to prosecute the facts contained in the complaint".

All four fashion groups at the time rejected the accusations, with Inditex saying it had strict traceability controls in place.

Uniqlo said it carried out inspections via third parties to ensure it suppliers were not violating human rights.

SMCP said on Thursday that it had always denied the allegations, and that it believed the probe was dropped "after the name of the SMCP group and its brands were removed in October 2022" from the Australian NGO report.

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