German companies accused of profiting from forced Uighur Muslim labour in China

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Several German companies have been accused of “profiting” from the forced labour of Uyghur Muslims in China.

The allegation was made by the Berlin-based NGO, The European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).

High-profile brands including clothing chains Hugo Boss and C&A, and the discount chains Lidl, Aldi Nord and Aldi Sud were named in the complaint.

The ECCHR said that the companies have been complicit “directly or indirectly” in the forced labour of members of the Muslim Uyghur minority in China’s Xinjiang province.

The association said the brands were guilty of “alleged complicity in crimes against humanity”. The companies have denied the claims.

Several western countries have accused China of detaining Uyghur Muslims in vast labour camps in the west of the country.

The United States claims that Beijing is carrying out genocide against Uyghur and other Turks in Xinjiang, where experts estimate that more than a million people are imprisoned.

Beijing rejects the term genocide and has described the camps as vocational training centres.

But Uyghur say they are being forced to abandon their religious traditions and are imprisoned while working for textile factories that supply multinational companies.

In its complaint, the ECCHR says that by maintaining business with the region, German companies are “aiding and abetting these crimes,” even if there was no tangible evidence of forced labour.

“These five cases are just one example of a much larger and more systemic problem,” Miriam Saage-Maass, director of the ECCHR told AFP.

C&A said in a statement that it did not “tolerate forced labour in [its] supply chain”.

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Aldi meanwhile stated that it had established “binding standards for all business partners” to prevent these issues.

Hugo Boss also said in a statement that it had “asked suppliers several months ago to find out and confirm that the production of goods in the supply chain is carried out in accordance with human rights” and added that it gave “absolute priority” to the matter.

Lidl meanwhile condemned the practices in question and told AFP that the NGO’s complaint was based on “old supplier lists”.

In April, a similar complaint against four multinational clothing companies was filed in France by the anti-corruption group Sherpa.

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