PARIS — Zara owner Inditex and SMCP, the group behind labels including Sandro and Maje, have denied sourcing products made with forced labor from the Uyghur region in China, responding to reports that French prosecutors have opened an inquiry following a complaint launched by a group of nongovernmental organizations.
“We strongly refute the claims in this complaint,” said Inditex in an emailed statement.
“Inditex conducts rigorous traceability controls and we intend to fully cooperate with the French authorities to confirm that the allegations are unfounded,” the statement continued.
“SMCP strongly denies these accusations and will fully cooperate with the investigation to prove them false,” the group said in an emailed statement.
An investigation was launched in June after a trio of nongovernmental organizations filed a complaint with the antiterrorist unit of the prosecutor’s office in France against Inditex, SMCP, Uniqlo and Skechers, accusing the companies of concealing crimes of humanity, according to AFP, confirming a report from the investigative news site Mediapart.
“Our organizations have filed this complaint to shed some light on the role played by multinational companies in this situation and to enable the French courts to rule on their possible criminal liability,” said the organizations Sherpa, the Collectif Éthique sur l’Etiquette and the European Uyghur Institute in a joint statement.
“The launch of an investigation is a necessary step to establish the truth and does not constitute recognition of the complaint’s merits,” said SMCP.
The fashion group added that it does not have direct suppliers from the region, and that most of its supply chain is based in Europe and the Mediterranean region, noting that it operates an entirely independent supply chain from that of its majority shareholder, Shangdong Ruyi Group.
Inditex said it has policies aimed at preventing forced labor in its supply chain.
“At Inditex, we have zero tolerance for all forms of forced labor and have established policies and procedures to ensure this practice does not take place in our supply chain,” said the Spanish fast fashion retailer.
Noting that it has signed the United Nations Global Compact, a pact encouraging companies to adopt socially responsible policies, SMCP said it formalized rules with suppliers regarding human rights through general purchasing conditions and a code of conduct. Suppliers have to agree to all clauses, as well as to ensuring that their subcontractors comply with them, the group said, noting it regularly conducts audits through an expert and independent third party to ensure the process is respected.
“Inditex fully complies with all existing legislation and recommendations regarding the protection of workers’ rights and has implemented a human rights compliance framework based on the highest international standards,” said the retailer.
Uniqlo and Skechers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The garment industry has faced increasing pressure to scrutinize supply chains in recent months. The U.S. declared the plight of the Uyghurs in China a genocide earlier this year, and, along with the European Union, the U.K. and Canada, placed sanctions against Chinese officials, citing human rights abuses against the minority group in the Xinjiang region.
The region has few apparel factories, but accounts for around 20 percent of the world’s supply of cotton. While much of that is used for goods sold in China, cotton is mixed and distributed globally, further putting pressure on labels to prove that the cotton in garments they bring to the U.S. or countries in Europe doesn’t come from Xinjiang.
Foreign companies like Hennes & Mauritz AB that have said they won’t source cotton from Xinjiang have faced a backlash in China, from the government and consumers.
A host of foreign brands have been ensnared, including Nike, Adidas, Uniqlo and Burberry, but H&M was the only one to have had its online stores on major Chinese e-commerce sites blocked.
Asked about business in China during a conference call with analysts this week, H&M chief executive officer Helena Helmersson said, “We’re still in a complex situation.”