Tesco charity Christmas cards withdrawn from sale amid claims they were packed in Chinese gulag

December 23, 2019 0 By HearthstoneYarns

A range of Tesco charity Christmas cards allegedly made by prisoners in China under duress has been withdrawn from sale.

The three charities set to benefit from the card sales, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK, said yesterday (SUNDAY), they were “shocked” by the revelations as Tesco vowed to investigate.

The discovery was made by a six-year-old girl, whose father had bought the box of supermarket cards for her to send to her friends.

Florence Widdicombe, from Tooting, south London, was busily writing the cards last week when she discovered a note inside one of them written from a Chinese gulag.

The cry for help, scrawled inside a card featuring a kitten in a Santa hat in capital letters, said:  “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China.

“Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation.” 

It went on to urge the recipient to contact Peter Humphrey, a British former journalist who had spent two years at the prison before being released in 2015.

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Florence, said yesterday: “It was a bit funny and I felt a bit shocked” on discovering the message.

She added: “We were writing in them. About on my sixth or eighth card, somebody had already written in it.”

Her father, Ben Widdicombe, said he felt “incredulity” and thought it was a “prank” when he read the message.

He explained: “On reflection we realised it was actually potentially quite a serious thing, so I felt very shocked but also a responsibility to pass it on to Peter Humphrey as the author asked me to do.”

Mr Widdicombe, a civil servant specialising in criminal justice, found Mr Humphrey online and sent him a message about the “strange occurrence” via LinkedIn.

The journalist yesterday described how he felt on receiving the “startling message” which resulted in Tesco suspending the factory’s print production and launching a full investigation.

“I was suddenly plunged back to a painful two-year period of my life when I was working in Shanghai as a corporate fraud investigator,” he wrote in the Sunday Times.

“My activities upset the Chinese government, which jailed both me and my American wife, Yu Yingzeng, on bogus charges that were never heard in court.

“I do not know the identities or nationalities of the prisoners who sneaked this note into the Tesco cards, but I have no doubt they are Qingpu prisoners who knew me before my release in June 2015 from the suburban prison where I spent nine of my 23 months.”

One former prisoner said inmates had been packing Christmas cards and gift tags for Tesco, “for at least two years.”

The supermarket’s charity cards, sold for £1.50 per box of 20 or three boxes for £3, will this year each earn £300,000 for the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK. 

But the revelation exposes the risks connected with using Chinese suppliers who hide behind an obscure supply chain that can involve forced labour.

In a statement released yesterday, Tesco said: “We abhor the use of prison labour and would never allow it in our supply chain. 

“We were shocked by these allegations and immediately suspended the factory where these cards are produced and launched an investigation. We have also withdrawn these cards from sale whilst we investigate.”

It added: “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 labour. If a supplier breaches these rules, we will immediately and permanently de-list them.”

British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK said in a joint statement:

“Like Tesco, we’re shocked by these allegations. 

“We are in touch with Tesco, who have assured us that these particular cards have been removed from sale, and that the factory producing them has been suspended while they investigate further. We await the outcome of Tesco’s full investigation.” 

In 2017, Jessica Rigby from Braintree, Essex, found a handwritten note in a box of Sainsbury’s Christmas cards, reading: “Wishing you luck and happiness. Third Product Shop, Guangzhou Prison, No 6 District.” The chain was said at the time to be investigating.

In 2014, Karen Wisinska from Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, found a note on a pair of Primark trousers reading: “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 author claimed to be incarcerated in the Xiang Nan prison in Hubei province. 

Primark said that nine inspections of the supplier had been carried out since 2009 and that no prison or other forced labour of any kind was found during those inspections.