Forced labour watchdog opens probe against Guess over possible Uyghur slave labour

OTTAWA — Canada’s corporate watchdog is launching a probe against the company Guess over possible ties to Uyghur forced labour in China.

The ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, Sheri Meyerhoffer, says the company has not done enough to prove that it has no supply relationships with Chinese companies that source materials from factories that employ people being forced to work.

Guess disputes this claim, arguing Meyerhoffer lacks credible evidence and that the three Chinese companies she names are not part of its supplier list.

Meyerhoffer says Guess has also argued she doesn’t have jurisdiction to look into the matter, as the Canadian subsidiary is not involved in the work that occurs abroad.

The watchdog has launched similar probes this year into the Canadian branches of firms such as Levi Strauss, Walmart, Hugo Boss and Nike.

China has strongly pushed back on claims that forced labour is taking place, saying they are not grounded in evidence and they are motivated to smear Beijing.

The United Nations found in 2022 that China committed serious human-rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang province that “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

Beijing has disputed that report.

“While Guess has provided information on their due diligence policies, they have not responded to the complaint, which is why we will proceed to an investigation,” Meyerhoffer wrote in a news release.

“Guess Canada’s response does not fully address the complex nature of the garment supply chain.”

Her report notes that Guess Canada has asked that part of the information it provided to her office be kept confidential and not given to the people who launched the complaint, which are mostly Uyghur advocacy groups.

Yet Meyerhoffer says the company did not specify when asked what parts of some documents it provided should be kept private, and so her report leaves out the specifics of Guess Canada’s response.