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C&A under fire over Chinese cotton, German NGO starts legal action

A Dutch courtroom. Photo: Odi Busman

A German human rights group is taking legal action against clothing company C&A and several other brands in the Netherlands, accusing them of complicity in human rights abuses in China.

Similar cases are also underway in Germany and France, but this is the first of its kind in the Netherlands, according to lawyer Barbara van Straaten from legal practice Prakken d’Oliveir, who filed the charges on behalf of ECCHR.

The campaign group wants the Dutch public prosecution department to investigate the companies’ alleged complicity in human rights violations which, it says, could amount to crimes against humanity.

Tens of thousands of members of the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, China, are said to be forced to harvest cotton and manufacture clothing – which is also sold on the European market via international supply chains.

‘The choice to not only focus on national criminal law regarding labour exploitation, but to broaden the complaint to crimes against humanity, underlines the scale of the crimes that are committed in Xinjiang,’ Van Straaten said. ‘It is also in line with statements from politicians and NGOs qualifying the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang as genocide and crimes against humanity.’

Socks

According to the NRC, the claims centre on socks from C&A, sneakers from Nike, outdoor clothing produced by Patagonia and men’s fashion from State of Art.

C&A told the NRC that it bought no clothing, fabrics or threat from factories in Xinjiang.

However, ECCHR says there is strong evidence that the cotton threads ended up in C&A socks via intermediaries. While the evidence is not watertight, suspicion alone is enough to merit legal action, Van Straaten said.

Patagonia told the paper the company bought no cotton from China, State of Art said it was unable to respond and Nike did not reply to requests for a statement.

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