British supermarket chain has launched an investigation after a girl found a handwritten message inside a pack of Christmas cards allegedly written by prisoners in China undergoing forced labor.
According to The Sunday Times, the note was discovered by a 6-year-old girl from Tooting, Southwest London, after she bought the charity cards from a Tesco store.
The message, written inside a card featuring a kitten in a Santa hat, read: “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organization.”
The message also urged anyone who found the message to get in touch with Peter Humphrey, a former British journalist who spent two years at the same Chinese prison on what he described as “bogus charges that were
never heard in court.”
The girl’s family then got in contact with Humphrey. He described in the article how former prisoners confirmed to him that inmates in the foreigner prisoner unit are being “forced into mundane manual assembly or packaging tasks”—including packing Christmas cards for Tesco.U.S. Blocks Import of Goods Thought to be Made by Forced Labor
The jail is also located around 62 miles from the Zheijiang Yunguang Printing factory where the cards are said to be made.
The supermarket said they would cut off any ties they had with the Chinese supplier if they were found to have used forced labor and have suspended operations.
Tesco added that the supplier was recently checked by independent auditors who found no evidence of human rights abuse.
A Tesco spokesman told Sky News: “We would never allow prison labor in our supply chain. [BS]
“We were shocked by these allegations and immediately halted production at the factory where these cards are produced and launched an investigation.
“We have a comprehensive auditing system in place and this supplier was independently audited as recently as last month and no evidence was found to suggest they had broken our rule banning the use of prison labor.
“If evidence is found we will permanently de-list the supplier.”
Tesco has been contacted for further comment.
Humphrey also said that he witnessed Chinese prisoners making tags and packaging for high-street clothing brands while he was serving his sentence.
In 2014, a woman in Belfast, Northern Ireland, found a similar note urging “SOS” written in Chinese inside a pair of trousers she had purchased from a clothing store Primark.
Karen Wisínska said she didn’t see the note allegedly written by prisoners subjected to slave labor for three years because she never wore the item of clothing as the zip was broke.
“I am only sorry that I did not discover the note when I first purchased the clothing, she told the BBC. “Then I could have brought this scandal to light much earlier.”
From Washington Post…
source Hannah Knowles
A British retailer with thousands of stores around the world said Sunday that it has suspended work with a Chinese factory as it investigates allegations of forced labor behind its Christmas cards — spurred by a plea for help that a 6-year-old girl reportedly found scrawled in her family’s purchase.
Supermarket chain Tesco said it has also stopped selling the cards after the Sunday Times described an all-caps note, attributed to Chinese prisoners, that urges its reader to contact a human rights group. The report follows years of other notes allegedly penned by abused workers that have raised concerns among unsuspecting shoppers and prompted inquiries.
Tesco said in a statement that it was stunned by the accusations of forced labor and would cut ties with the cards’ supplier, Zheijiang Yunguang Printing, if it was found to have violated Tesco’s rules against prison labor. The company said it has a “comprehensive auditing system,” adding that the cards’ supplier “was independently audited as recently as last month” and that no evidence of wrongdoing surfaced.AD
The supplier did not immediately respond to The Washington Post on Sunday, nor did the Chinese Embassy.
The upheaval started with a holiday purchase that supports Tesco’s charity, the London family said in an interview posted by the BBC. Florence Widdicombe was looking through the cards her mother picked up — she wanted to write to her friends at school — when she starting laughing, her father said.
“Mom, look — somebody’s already written in this card,” Ben Widdicombe recounted his daughter saying to his wife.
A closer look revealed a note claiming to be from foreign inmates in China’s Qingpu prison “forced to work against our will,” he said. The note reportedly asked the reader to contact a “Mr Peter Humphrey” — a British journalist and former private investigator who spent about two years in the prison and who would bring the allegations of mistreatment into the public eye this weekend with a Sunday Times article.AD
At first, Ben Widdicombe said, he suspected a prank.
“But on reflection, we realized it was actually potentially quite a serious thing,” he said.
He messaged Humphrey on LinkedIn on Monday, the journalist would recount later.
The Post could not independently confirm the Widdicombes’ account, but the report raises serious questions about the festive cards that Tesco says allow it to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to charitable causes in Britain.
Humphrey said he believes the note was written by ex-cellmates whom he met after his corporate fraud investigations drew the ire of the Chinese government, landing him and his wife in prison on “bogus charges that were never heard in court.” He said he reached out to other former inmates, who confirmed that people in his old unit have been forced to do assembly and packaging.AD
Foreign prisoners in Qingpu have been working on Tesco Christmas cards and gift tags for at least two years, Humphrey says he was told.
“I’m pretty sure this was written as a collective message,” Humphrey told the BBC of the note that Ben Widdicombe passed on to him. “Obviously one single hand produced this capital letters’ handwriting and I think I know who it was, but I will never disclose that name.”
Notes alleging worker abuse in China have shocked consumers before. In 2013, the New York Times reported, a former prisoner whose story led to a documentary claimed responsibility for a letter found by an Oregon mother in Halloween decorations from Kmart. The Beijing man said he’d stuffed 20 letters into items bound for the West over his years in a labor camp.
“Sir: If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization,” the Halloween decorations note is said to have read. “Thousands people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”AD
The next year, a woman in Northern Ireland found an alarming note in a pair of pants that was attributed to prisoners, the BBC wrote.
“We work 15 hours per day and the food we eat wouldn’t even be given to dogs or pigs,” the note claimed, according to news reports.
A more recent story, from 2017, involved another Christmas card: A woman in Britain told Reuters that she found a scrawled note inside a card from the supermarket Sainsbury’s that was signed in Mandarin, “Third Product Shop, Guangzhou Prison, Number 6 District.”
Humphrey told the BBC that conditions in Qingpu were poor while he was imprisoned but that work was optional, a way to earn money for soap or toothpaste or biscuits. That seems to have changed, he said, pointing to censorship as a possible reason that those still jailed have not contacted him directly.
“So they resorted,” he wrote, “to the Qingpu equivalent of a message in a bottle.”