Last year’s report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) on the plight of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the Chinese province of Xinjiang is still making waves. Citing the report, two NGOs, the European Uyghur Institute and an individual Uyghur woman have engaged a French law firm, Bourdon & Associés, to file a legal complaint in Paris against Inditex, Uniqlo, SMCP and Skechers. To quote one of the NGOs – a French non-profit called Sherpa – these and “many other transnational companies” are continuing to “subcontract part of their production or to market goods using cotton produced in the Chinese province, thus knowingly taking advantage in their value chain of the workforce in a region where crime against humanity are being perpetrated.”
The Chinese Communist Party has maintained that the “re-education camps” it operates in Xinjiang are meant to counter terrorism and integrate the minorities into Chinese society.
The suit itself declares that it is the “first in a series to be filed over the coming months in other European countries,” and that it enjoys the support of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and the World Uyghur Congress. It has the support of several members of the European Parliament as well, among them Raphaël Glucksman, who is both the founder of the Place Publique political party in France and one of the ten EU officials sanctioned by the Chinese government over recent boycotts of Xinjiang factories and products.
As we have recently reported, tensions have been running high between China, the EU and the U.S. over this issue as well as the status of Taiwan and of the South China Sea, which lies between China’s great ports and the busy Strait of Malacca. In late March, the Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, was summoned to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs over a Twitter spat with Antoine Bondaz, a researcher specialized in Taiwan and Korea at France’s Foundation for Strategic Research. Bondaz had been defending the right of French officials to visit Taiwan. In reply, the ambassador called him a “small-time thug” and “mad hyena.”
Not long before that, on March 10, the European Parliament adopted a resolution with recommendations on corporate due diligence and corporate accountability. It recommends strengthening supply-chain traceability, considering, among many other things, that “voluntary due diligence standards have limitations and have not achieved significant progress in preventing human rights and environmental harm and in enabling access to justice” and that “it is the responsibility of states and governments to protect human rights and the environment, and this responsibility should not be transferred to private actors.”