- A 6-year-old girl from London found a handwritten plea for help inside a Christmas card bought from the UK grocery chain Tesco.
- The innocuous greeting card contained a disturbing message from someone claiming to be a prisoner at the Shanghai Qingpu prison in China.
- The discovery of notes like this have become increasingly common in recent years.
- Here are seven other examples of cries of help alleging forced labour found inside products from popular retail stores.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
This week, it was reported that a six-year-old girl from South London found a handwritten plea for help inside a Christmas card bought from Tesco, the massive UK grocery-store chain.
The innocuous greeting card contained a disturbing message from someone claiming to be a prisoner at the Shanghai Qingpu prison in China.
“We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China,” the message said, according to The Sunday Times’ Peter Humphrey, who broke the story. “Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation.”
The discovery of notes like these have become more common in recent years.
Major international retailers like Zara, Walmart, and Kmart have dealt with backlash from similar notes discovered in products sold at their stores.
According to the 2019 Global Slavery Index, 40.3 million people are considered to be modern-day slaves, and no country in the world is exempt regardless of its size, population or wealth. Of those 40.3 million people, an estimated 16 million people are forced into labour exploitation in the private economy around the globe.
Here are seven examples of cries for help and alleging forced labour that have been found inside items from popular retail stores:
Inside a handbag from Saks Fifth Avenue.
In September 2012, an Australian woman found a note inside a handbag she bought from the upscale department store Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, the New York-based DNAinfo website reported.
The note was from a man identified as Tohnain Emmanuel Njong, who claimed he was forced to work 13-hour days at a Chinese prison factory. A small photo of a man in an orange jacket was also enclosed in the bag.
A human-rights agency named Laogai Research Foundation verified the letter and passed it on to the US Department of Homeland Security, but it’s not clear if the agency investigated the complaint, DNAinfo reported in 2014.
Inside pants and socks from Primark.
In 2014, a woman from Northern Ireland said she found a note in a pair of pants from UK fast-fashion retailer Primark alleging slave labour conditions at the Xiang Nan prison in China’s central Hubei province, Amnesty International reported at the time.
“Our job inside the prison is to produce fashion clothes for export. We work 15 hours per day and the food we eat wouldn’t even be given to dogs or pigs,” the note said in Chinese.
Separately, in 2015, a man in Newcastle in northern England found a note stuffed inside his Primark socks.
The note was from a person named Ding Tingkun, who claimed that he was held at a detention centre in Lingbi County, eastern China.
Primark said at the time it believed the note was a hoax “used to gain publicity for the plight of this individual,” and that several other messages had appeared around the same time.
“The Primark name is being used to gain publicity for the plight of this individual,” a representative said at the time. “We have found no link at all between this individual and any of our suppliers’ factories in China.”
Source: Business Insider
Inside pockets in Zara clothes.
In 2017, notes started appearing inside the pockets of Zara garments in Istanbul, Turkey, claiming to have been made using unpaid labour.
The messages claimed that employees at the Bravo Tekstil factory in Turkey were not compensated, the BBC reported at the time.
The factory had produced clothes for big brands like Zara and Mango before it went bankrupt overnight in July 2016, the BBC said.
“I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it,” one note read, according to The Cut.
A spokesperson for Inditex, the company that owns Zara, said at the time that it was working to find a solution, The Cut reported. The workers’ current conditions remain unknown.
Inside a pack of Halloween decorations at Kmart.
In October 2012, a woman in Oregon named Julie Keith found a note inside a pack of Halloween decorations bought at US retailer Kmart, The New York Times reported.
The note said workers in China “toiled seven days a week, their 15-hour days haunted by sadistic guards,” and asked the buyer to resend the letter to international human-rights activists, The Times reported.
“Thousands people here who are under the persicution [sic] of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever,” the note also said.
Seven months later, a 47-year-old former inmate at the Masanjia labour camp in Liaoning, northeast China, admitted to writing the letter alongside 20 others, in the hopes they would be discovered by Western shoppers.
The prison is known to house adherents of Falun Gong, a spiritual sect outlawed in China.
At the bottom of a purse from Walmart.
In March 2017, an Arizona woman claimed she found a message in the bottom of a purse she’d bought from Walmart, according to Vox. The purse was made in China.
It contained messages written in Chinese, that said it had been made with forced Chinese labour.
“Inmates in China’s Yingshan Prison work 14 hours a day and are not allowed to rest at noon,” the note said, according to Vox. “We have to work overtime until midnight. People are beaten for not finishing their work.”
Inside a Christmas card from Tesco.
Six-year-old Florence Widdicombe found a note from someone claiming to have been a foreign Chinese prisoner when she purchased a Christmas card from Tesco.
The note told the recipient to reach out to Peter Humphrey, a former journalist who was detained for several years in China in the Shanghai Qingpu prison in China. Humphrey then reported the story for The Sunday Times.
The discovery of the striking note prompted Tesco to announce that all the cards had been pulled from its shelves, that it had suspended its use of the Zhejiang Yuanguang Printing factory which produced the cards.
Inside a pack of Christmas cards from Sainsbury’s.
Similarly, a woman from Essex, southeastern England, said she found a handwritten note in Chinese inside a box of Christmas cards from UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s.
“Wishing you luck and happiness,” the note said in Chinese, as published by The Sun. “Third Product Shop, Guangzhou Prison, No 6 District.”
Sainsbury’s said at the time it was investigating the matter, The Sun reported.
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