Several fashion companies, including Inditex and Uniqlo, have been taken to court in Paris for covering up forced labour and crimes against humanity.
According to the plaintiffs (the NGO Sherpa, the Collectif Ethique sur l'Etiquette and the European Uyghur Institute), Inditex, Uniqlo, SMCP, and Skechers still outsource part of their production to the Xinjiang region. They also allegedly market goods with cotton originating from the disputed region. The indictment is intended to expose "the impunity of these actors in the face of violations committed in the context of economic globalisation", Fashion Network reports.
Xinjiang accounts for a fifth of the world's cotton production. According to several NGOs, forced labour is systematically used against the Uyghur minority. The controversy gained momentum last year following the publication of a comprehensive report by the Australian Institute of Political Strategy. In that report, dozens of major brands were associated with the abuses.
The complaint comes within the context of rising tensions between China and the West regarding the issue. Several brands that have spoken out about the controversy, such as H&M, have seen their products removed from the Chinese market and were boycotted on local social networks. The whole affair confronts the clothing brands with a difficult choice: to put into practice the human values they regularly advertise or to deprive themselves of one of the biggest markets in the world in the middle of a health crisis.
For the NGOs behind the complaint filed in Paris, the Uyghur issue underlines the importance of the future European directive on the duty of care. On 10 March, Members of the European Parliament voted on a draft initiative on the duty of care, laying the groundwork for stricter control of companies and their subsidiaries.