France investigates retailers over China forced labour claims
Retailers have hit back after authorities in France opened a "crimes against humanity" probe into their activities in China's Xinjiang region.
French prosecutors are looking into accusations four fashion bands sourced goods made by forced labour from Uyghur Muslims in China.
Uniqlo, Zara-owner Inditex and French textile firm SMCP deny the claims, while Skechers declined to comment.
China strongly rejects claims of human rights abuses in the region.
In March, the US, the European Union, UK and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, citing abuses in Xinjiang. Beijing retaliated immediately with its own.
French authorities opened the probe after complaints from the European Uyghur Institute and other pressure groups that the retailers were profiting from the use of forced labour.
An Inditex spokesperson told the BBC: "We strongly refute the claims in this complaint. Inditex conducts rigorous traceability controls and we intend to fully cooperate with the French authorities to confirm that the allegations are unfounded."
"At Inditex, we have zero tolerance for all forms of forced labour and have established policies and procedures to ensure this practice does not take place in our supply chain," the spokesperson added.
Inditex said it "fully complies" with all existing legislation and recommendations regarding the protection of workers' rights. The company says it has implemented a human rights compliance framework "based on the highest international standards."
Uniqlo's parent company, Tokyo-based Fast Retailing, said: "If and when notified, we will co-operate fully with the investigation to reaffirm there is no forced labour in our supply chains."
The spokesperson added that the company was aware of the media reports about the investigation but had not been contacted by authorities.
Uniqlo said it conducted audits to ensure no human rights violation in their supply chain and add that none of their production partners are located in Xinjiang.
French textile firm SMCP also said that it conducts regular audits and does not have "direct suppliers in the region mentioned in the press."
But Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told the BBC that while international firms may conduct audits that do not find evidence of forced labour in supply chains, "political repression in the Xinjiang region is so pervasive that labour inspectors cannot interview workers freely without fear of reprisals".
She said inspectors cannot visit facilities without advance warning, and they cannot compel regional authorities to provide essential information about hours, pay, or other key labour conditions.