A British supermarket chain has halted cooperation with a Chinese printing factory after concerns about human rights abuse and the treatment of prisoners have arisen. This is after six-year-old Florence Widdicombe discovered a plea for help as she was writing out Christmas messages for her school class.

A cry for help

As noted by the BBC, Florence loves sending and receiving Christmas cards, so her parents bought a pack of charity cards from their local Tesco supermarket. Once she got home, the young girl sat down and began writing messages to her friends.

However, she suddenly laughed out loud, as she found one of the cards already had a message inside. While she and her father Ben Widdicombe thought at first that it was funny and a prank, it turned out to be a serious message indeed.

The message, in capital letters and in English, said those writing were foreign inmates being forced to work against their will in the Zheijiang Yunguang Printing factory in China.

Their prison is the Qingpu Prison in China and the prisoners were desperate to get help.

Their message asked the reader to get in touch with “Mr. Peter Humphrey” and gave brief contact details. Humphrey turned out to be a former private investigator and British journalist, who had spent around two years in the Chinese prison. The prisoner writing the note believed Humphrey could help bring the story of their mistreatment in prison into the public eye.

It was Florence’s father, Ben, who managed to contact Humphrey via the social media site LinkedIn. The journalist said he believed the cry for help had been written by former cellmates he had met in Qingpu Prison, where he was incarcerated on “bogus charges” and never received a court hearing.

Humphrey then got in touch with other former cellmates who confirmed people in the prison were forced to work in the factory. In fact, this has been going on for some two years. Humphrey added that he is sure this was a collective message on behalf of all the wrongly imprisoned foreign inmates who were forced to create Christmas cards and tags.

Chinese factory passed audit

Tesco had audited Zheijiang Yunguang Printing prior to ordering cards, which were sold by the supermarket chain to aid charities. Their audit showed no evidence of wrongdoing, but it now turns out the Chinese factory has violated Tesco’s rules against the use of prison labor.

Tesco released a statement to say they are stunned by the news of forced labor and the supermarket giant was immediately cutting ties with the manufacturer.

The Christmas cards normally allow Tesco to donate hundreds of thousands each year to various charities in the UK.

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