Five German companies sued for allegedly benefiting from Uighur slave labor
By Ramon Tomey // Sep 09, 2021

A human rights group in Europe has sued five German firms for benefiting from Uighur slave labor. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) accused the five companies of using forced labor from concentration camps in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. The Xinjiang labor camps have been denounced for the inhumane treatment imprisoned Muslim Uighurs experienced there.


ECCHR's criminal complaint filed Sept. 6 named luxury fashion brand Hugo Boss, supermarket chains Aldi Nord and Aldi Sud, discount retailer Lidl and fast fashion brand C&A as plaintiffs. The group based its complaint from publicly available information about the five firms' supply chains.

ECCHR Business and Human Rights Program Head Miriam Saage-Maass said the group's lawsuit "highlights the potential systematic involvement of European companies in alleged state-sponsored forced labor in [Xinjiang]." She continued: "The question is whether entertaining business relationships is not a way of aiding and abetting those international crimes."

International law experts have argued that the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang amounted to "crimes against humanity," ECCHR said in a statement. It added: "It is unacceptable that European governments criticize China on human rights violations, while European companies may be profiting from the exploitation of the Uighur population. It is high time that those responsible … are held accountable if suspicions of forced labor are confirmed."

The companies denied the allegations put forward by ECCHR. The Aldi Group, which owns the two eponymous supermarket chains, said the suit was based on its ties with its former supplier Turpan Jinpin Knitting. Aldi added that it had stopped purchasing from this supplier at the end of 2019.

Lidl meanwhile said it has also stopped working with other Xinjiang-based companies following investigations. C&A flatly denied purchasing any garments, yarn or fabric from suppliers based in the region. Hugo Boss likewise denied ECCHR's accusations. It said the company's "values and standards were adhered to in the production of [its] goods and that there are no violations of the law."

The five companies are just the "tip of the iceberg"

According to Saage-Maass, the five companies ECCHR sued were just the tip of the iceberg. "It's very likely that there are many more companies sourcing from the region" – contributing to a "wider and more systematic problem," she added.

ECCHR's Sept. 6 lawsuit served to hold German companies accountable for patronizing the slave labor ongoing in the western Xinjiang region. However, American companies lobbied against a bill that cracked down on products made using Uighur slave labor. Later, it was revealed that these same U.S. firms opposed to the bill profited from Xinjiang forced labor. (Related: US corporations lobbying against bill cracking down on products made with Xinjiang forced labor.)

HR 1155, or the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act, mandated companies to scrutinize their supply chains for any links to Xinjiang. It banned products made "in whole or in part" in Xinjiang unless companies can provide proof that these were not made using forced labor. Furthermore, the bill required firms to disclose their ties to any Xinjiang company to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Back in November 2020, Fox Business said several companies sought to dilute certain provisions of HR 1155 – with athletic shoe company Nike was named as part of these firms. The report added that the shoe company spent more than $1 million on federal lobbying efforts – with some allocated to the HR 115 lobby – through the first three quarters of 2020.

A Nike spokesperson denied the claim, saying the company "did not lobby against the [anti-forced labor] bill." They mentioned Nike's efforts to uphold ethical manufacturing through "constructive discussions" with representatives of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

When it comes to using Uighur forced labor, Nike just does it

True enough, a March 2020 report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) named Nike as one of many firms that benefited from Uighur forced labor. The ASPI report said 600 Uighur workers were making shoes at the Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd. factory in Shandong province. The Uighur workers consisted mostly of women from the remote Hotan and Kashgar prefectures.  (Related: Pro-BLM football player Colin Kaepernick surprisingly silent on Nike's complicity with Uighur slave labor.)

During the day, the Uighur workers make shoes from Nike – Qingdao Taekwan's primary customer. It churns out more than seven million pairs of shoes every year. After their shift, the Uighur workers attend a night school where they study Mandarin and sing the Chinese national anthem. These night schools also give "vocational training" and "patriotic education" similar to the re-education camps in their home province.

Nike issued a statement in response to the ASPI report, saying that it "does not source products from [Xinjiang] and … [it is] not using textiles or spun yarn from the region." It continued: "Nike is committed to ethical and responsible manufacturing and we uphold international labor standards."

The statement also clarified Nike's relationship with the Taekwang Group, which owns the Qingdao Taekwang factory in Shandong province. "[When] reports of the situation in [Xinjiang] began to surface in 2019, Taekwang stopped hiring new employees from [Xinjiang] to its Qingdao facility. [An] independent third-party audit confirmed there are no longer any [Uighur] employees at the facility," it said. has more articles about Uighur slave labor and companies that benefit from it.

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