Six year old British girl discovers plea for help in Christmas card from Chinese prisoner

Picture courtesy of Sanook

During the Christmas season of 2019, Florence Widdicombe, a six year old girl in England, found a secret message asking for help on a Christmas card she intended to send to a friend. The message claimed to be from a prisoner from Shanghai Qingpu prison, China, who was forced into labour. The plea urged the recipient to contact Peter Humphrey, a British journalist and former investigative reporter who was imprisoned for two years for exposing corruption within the Chinese government and planned to publish an article about the unwarranted treatment in prison.

Florence’s father, Ben Widdicombe, initially thought it was a prank but upon second thought, he began to suspect the authenticity of the message. He contacted Humphrey through LinkedIn on December 16. The message read, “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation. Use the link to contact Mr.Peter Humphrey.”

Humphrey replied, believing the message to be written by a former fellow inmate. He contacted other friends in prison who confirmed the authenticity of the message, that they were forced to pack products. He further discovered that prisoners had been making Christmas cards for the Tesco supermarket chain for at least two years, reported BBC.

Humphrey suggested that the message was a collective message from a group of prisoners experiencing the same conditions. He recognised the handwriting and knew who had written the message.

On December 22, Tesco, a British multinational groceries and general merchandise retailer, announced that it would cease the sale of cards alleged to have been made using forced labour and would sever ties with Zhejiang Yunguang Printing, their Chinese supplier, accused of violating Tesco’s rules against using prison labour. However, the company stated that it had external auditors who found no irregularities.

Tesco annually donates around US$300,000 from the proceeds of its cards from various festivals to charities in the United Kingdom.

There have been prior reports of Chinese prison inmates being used to produce export goods. In 2013, a case involving the production of Halloween supplies surfaced, where a collector’s letter from prison urged human rights organisations to be informed of forced labour production if the product was purchased.

The United Kingdom has laws against modern slavery, known as The UK Modern Slavery Act 2015, which requires companies to have comprehensive human rights inspection processes in place. These measures serve to prevent and mitigate the risks of modern slavery in the supply chain.

World News

Samantha Rose

Samantha was a successful freelance journalist who worked with international news organisations before joining Thaiger. With a Bachelor's degree in Journalism from London, her global perspective on news and current affairs is influenced by her days in the UK, Singapore, and across Thailand. She now covers general stories related to Thailand.

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