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Levi Strauss targeted by federal corporate ethics czar in probe

Company denies allegations it is working with firms that use forced Uyghur labour in China

Canada’s corporate ethics watchdog has launched an investigation into allegations that Levi Strauss Canada is working with companies that use forced labour in China.

Sheri Meyerhoffer, the ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, is looking into whether the denim company known for Levi’s jeans has supply relationships with Chinese companies that source materials from Uyghur people forced to work in the Xinjiang region.

Meyerhoffer’s office is tasked with investigating complaints about possible human-rights abuses in the operations of Canadian garment, mining and oil and gas companies.

Levi Strauss denies the allegations, saying they are based on outdated and inaccurate data.

The company did not make itself available for an initial assessment meeting and did not provide information verifying its response to the allegations, the ombudsperson’s office said.

Given the company’s limited participation in the complaint process, the watchdog said it may consider whether the company is participating in good faith at a later stage in the process.

That could include making a recommendation to the minister of international trade about withdrawing or denying trade advocacy support to the company.

The allegations stem from a complaint that was made in June 2022 by a coalition of 28 civil society organizations. The organizations initially took their complaint to Levi Strauss in November 2021, and they say they have not received a response.

The complaint cited a March 2020 report from Australia that documented the use of Uyghur labour in Xinjiang, as well as a 2021 report by a professor at Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom that linked Levi Strauss to three companies that use or benefit from forced labour.

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

Beijing has disputed that report.

In its response to the ombudsperson, Levi Strauss said “to the best of the company’s knowledge, it has no commercial relationships with the five suppliers named in the complaint.”

As a result, the investigation aims to “assess the reliability of the data” in the reports cited in the complaint.

The ombudsperson also recently announced investigations into Walmart, Hugo Boss and Diesel.

Levi is the seventh company to be investigated for allegations it uses Uyghur forced labour in its supply chain, and the ombudsperson’s office said more assessments will be made public in the coming weeks.

READ ALSO: Canada’s corporate ethics czar launches forced-labour probes into 2 firms