A facility believed to be a reeducation camp north of Akto in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region is shown in this photo taken on 4 June 2019/AFP

French magistrates have opened an inquiry into allegations that four fashion groups including Uniqlo and the owner of Zara profited from forced labour of the Uyghur minority in China, a judicial source said Thursday.

Magistrates at the national anti-terror prosecutor’s office in Paris are probing claims the multinational companies are complicit in crimes against humanity, the source said, confirming a report on the Mediapart investigative website.

The case is based on a complaint lodged in April 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 is also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.

The United States says “genocide” has been inflicted on the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the region, while Beijing has denied all allegations of abuses and has insisted its policies in Xinjiang are necessary to counter violent extremism.

The US has announced import bans on a handful of companies operating in Xinjiang, including the solar panel maker Hoshine Silicon Industry.

Several major consumer brands including Uniqlo, H&M, Nike or Adidas announced last year that they would stop buying cotton from the region, leading to boycott calls in China.


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