Supermarket giant Tesco in the United Kingdom has said it has stopped production at a factory in China after one of its Christmas cards was found to contain a cry for help reportedly from a prisoner who made it.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported that a London schoolgirl had opened a card last weekend to find a message inside claiming to be from inmates at Shanghai’s Qingpu Prison.
“We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu Prison China,” said the message, in a Tesco charity card featuring a kitten in a Santa hat.
“Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation.”
The writer asked whoever received the note to contact Peter Humphrey, a British former journalist who was jailed in China while working as a corporate investigator and spent time at the same Shanghai prison.
The London girl’s father, Ben Widdicombe, said on Sunday they at first thought the message was a “prank.”
“On reflection, we realised it was actually potentially quite a serious thing,” Widdicombe said. “So I felt very shocked, but also a responsibility to pass it on to Peter Humphrey as the author asked me to do.”
He said the message was eye-opening: “It hits home there are injustices in the world and difficult situations that we know about and read about each and every day.”
Widdicombe said finding the message shortly before Christmas was poignant and that he told his daughter, Florence, what it might mean.
“We explained that the person who wrote it was a prisoner in China and that the person felt the prison guards were being mean, making them do work, they felt really sad,” the father said.
Writing in the Sunday Times newspaper, Humphrey said he did not know the identities or the nationalities of the prisoners who put the note into the card, but he “had no doubt they are Qingpu prisoners who knew me before my release in June 2015 from the suburban prison where I spent 23 months”.
Tesco is Britain’s largest retailer and the world’s third-biggest supermarket chain with global operations that include China, India and Ireland.
A spokeswoman said it was “shocked” at the revelation.
It had “immediately halted production at the factory where these cards are produced” and withdrawn the cards from sale pending an investigation.
“We abhor the use of prison labour and would never allow it in our supply chain,” the spokeswoman said.
The company said the card involved was produced at Zheijiang Yinguang Printing, where an independent audit was carried out as recently as November 2019.
“No evidence was found to suggest they had broken our rule banning the use of prison labour,” the spokeswoman said, while no other complaints have been received.
“If evidence is found we will permanently de-list the supplier.”
The firm added that it had 35 full-time sourcing managers working across Asia, who visited factories to ensure good working conditions.