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France drops fashion group probe over Uyghur labour



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French magistrates have dropped a probe into allegations four fashion groups profited from forced labour of the Uyghur minority in China, prosecutors said Thursday.

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

The plaintiffs' lawyer William Bourdon told 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.

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

A source close to the case said this was because the alleged crimes were likely carried out by Chinese companies in China.

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 told AFP 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.(AFP)

Forced Labor