German Retailers Hugo Boss, Aldi, and Lidl Accused of Benefiting from Chinese Concentration Camp Labour

SHIHEZI, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 22: (CHINA OUT) A farmer and his son pick cotton in a cotton field on September 22, 2007 in Shihezi of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. About one million farmer workers from surrounding provinces travelled to Xinjiang to pick cotton. Each farmer is expected to make …
China Photos/Getty Images

Five German retailers have been accused of profiting off slave labour in the concentration camp region of Xinjiang by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), claims the businesses deny.

The ECCHR filed a criminal complaint in Germany against the retailers Hugo Boss, Lidl, C&A, Aldi Nord and Aldi Sud, accusing them of benefiting from forced labour from the Muslim Uyghur population in the Xinjiang region of Western China based on publicly available information on the supply chains of the companies.

“The complaint highlights the potential systematic involvement of European companies in alleged state-sponsored forced labour in the [Xinjiang Autonomous Region],” the head of ECCHR’s Business and Human Rights program, Miriam Saage-Maas said per DW.

“It is unacceptable that European governments criticize China on human rights violations, while European companies may be profiting from the exploitation of the Uyghur population.  It is high time that those responsible in the companies are held accountable if suspicions of forced labour are confirmed.”

Saage-Maas said that it is likely that the five companies mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg of a much “wider and more systematic problem, saying: “it’s very likely that there are many more companies sourcing from the region.”

The companies have denied the claims.

In a statement, the ECCHR said “international law experts have qualified the treatment of Uyghurs in the region as amounting to crimes against humanity. Yet, European clothing brands and retailers source or have until recently sourced goods from companies in that region, according to the supplier lists they publish.”

It has been estimated by U.S. intelligence that up to three million Uyghurs, Kazaks, Kyrgyz, and other ethnic minorities have been interned in concentration camps in Xinjiang at the peak. Recent estimates have suggested that around two million are subject still being forced to endure torture, sterilisation, and forced labour within the camps.

The Chinese Communist Party has denied allegations of genocide in Xinjiang and has even attempted to rebrand the forced labour camps as merely “facilitation of employment” facilities.

Despite Beijing’s denials, Western companies such as Adidas, H&M, Nike and Uniqlo have all announced that they would stop purchasing cotton from the region, sparking nationwide boycotts spurred on by the Chinese government.

Germany and specifically Chancellor Angela Merkel were said to be the driving force behind failed efforts to secure a massive trade deal between the European Union and the communist state.

Under Merkel’s leadership, Germany has seen its economic reliance on China increase to the extent that the communist nation became Germany’s top trading partner in 2018.

Germany’s top automotive companies Volkswagen and BMW have both been accused of profiting from the use of slave labour in the Xinjiang region.

The Aldi Group said that the allegations of slave labour were based on their former supplier Turpan Jinpin Knitting, which they claim stopped supplying the supermarket chain with products in 2019. Lidl has said that it has also stopped working with some other firms following investigations.

The fast-fashion company C&A flatly denied purchasing any materials from Xinjiang.

Hugo Boss — which was moved to apologise for its Nazi past in 2011 — also denied the allegations, maintaining that the company’s “values and standards were adhered to in the production of our goods and that there are no violations of the law.”

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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