A number of internationally renowned fashion brands, including Nike, C&A and Patagonia, are being sued by the European Center for Constitutional Rights (ECCHR) as being directly or indirectly complicit in the forced labour of the Uyghur population in the Xinjiang province in China.
Filed by Dutch prosecutors with support from Prakken d’Oliveira Human Rights Lawyers, the criminal complaint will investigate the corporations’ alleged complicity in human rights violations that could amount to crimes against humanity.
News of the filing was reported by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, a charity registered in both the UK and US who work to advance human rights in business and eradicate abuse.
“Alarming reports of torture”
The filing references “alarming reports about torture, re-education camps, and forced labor in the Xinjiang region in China have increased in frequency since 2017. Research reports, as well as publicly available supply chain information disclosed by the investigated brands, explicitly state that the companies have suppliers with production facilities in Xinjiang.”
“The choice to not only focus on national criminal law regarding labour exploitation, but to broaden the complaint to crimes against humanity, underlines the scale of the crimes that are committed in Xinjiang and aligns with statements from politicians and NGOs that have qualified the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang as genocide and crimes against humanity,” says Barbara van Straaten, Human Rights Lawyer, Prakken d’Oliveira.
“It is unacceptable that European governments criticise China for human rights violations while these companies possibly profit from the exploitation of the Uyghur population. It is high time that responsible corporate officers are investigated and – if necessary - held to account,” says Corina Ajder, Legal Advisor, ECCHR.
The ECCHR accuses the companies of “directly or indirectly abetting and profiting” from the forced labour of Uyghur Muslims in the region, which supplies more than one fifth of the world’s cotton.
Last week the BBC reported a newly published cache of documents directly linking top Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping to the state’s crackdown on Uyghur Muslims.
Similar complaints have been filed in Germany and France.