Uniqlo, Skechers Among Companies France Investigating for Using Uyghur Labor

French prosecutors are investigating various retail companies, including Uniqlo and Skechers, following allegations that they used forced labor from Uyghur Muslims in China's Xinjiang region.

The Chinese government denied all accusations that it used forced labor Friday and denounced the French investigation as interference in internal affairs, the Associated Press reported.

The humanity unit of France's anti-terrorism prosecutor's office, which has the right to prosecute crimes outside of France, initiated the probe in June. The investigation is based on a complaint filed this year by an exiled Uyghur worker and three human rights groups, AP reported.

A specific culprit wasn't named in the probe, but it seeks to determine those responsible and prosecute them for crimes against humanity, said a judicial official not authorized to be identified publicly. In addition to Uniqlo and Skechers, rights groups say the French company SMCP and Inditex, owner of the clothing retailer Zara, used labor from Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

French Uyghur Investigation
French prosecutors on Friday opened an investigation into alleged involvement in crimes against humanity based on accusations that global retailers, including Uniqlo and the makers of Skechers shoes and Zara clothes, rely on forced labor of minorities in China. Above, visitors to a shopping mall wearing masks stand before a Uniqlo store in Beijing on March 29, 2021. Ng Han Guan/AP Photo

China has come under criticism and sanctions for detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs and and other Muslim minorities for political re-education in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, and for imprisoning or intimidating into silence those it sees as potential opponents from Tibet to Hong Kong.

Uniqlo said in a statement to the AP on Friday that it hadn't been formally notified of the investigation, but would cooperate fully with French authorities "to reaffirm there is no forced labor in our supply chains."

The company said none of its production partners are located in Xinjiang.

"There has been no evidence of forced labor or any other human rights violation at any of our suppliers. If there is evidence, we will cease to do business with that supplier," it said.

Skechers said earlier this year that regular audits of its facilities in China have found no sign of forced labor.

Inditex said on its website that it takes "a zero-tolerance approach towards forced labor in any of its manifestations and we implement policies and procedures to ensure that this practice does not take place anywhere in our supply chain."

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said Friday: "We have repeatedly stressed that the so-called 'forced labor' in Xinjiang is a lie concocted by a small number of anti-China elements from the U.S. and a few other countries, with the aim of disrupting Xinjiang and containing China."

"We firmly oppose any external forces interfering in China's internal affairs through Xinjiang-related issues," he continued.

The human rights groups celebrated the French investigation and expressed hopes it will help shine a light on what is happening in Xinjiang.

Testimony From Uyghur Witness
French prosecutors on Friday opened an investigation into alleged involvement in crimes against humanity based on accusations that global retailers, including Uniqlo and the makers of Skechers shoes and Zara clothes, rely on forced labor of minorities in China. Above, witness Kazakh-Uyghur Omir Bekali demonstrates how he said he was shackled at a re-education camp as he speaks on the first day of hearings at the Uyghur Tribunal, a panel of U.K.-based lawyers and rights experts investigating alleged abuses against Uyghurs in China, in London on June 4, 2021. Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images