When Karen Wisinska finally got around to trying on a pair of pants she bought three years ago in her native Northern Ireland, what she says she found in a pocket was a handwritten “cry for help” from a Chinese prison sweatshop.
The BBC says she posted pictures of a prison identification card wrapped in a note headlined in English “SOS! SOS! SOS!” on Facebook and got a rough translation that shocked and sickened her. She then sent the items to Amnesty International.
The human rights group translated the message, which it says reads:
“SOS! SOS! SOS!
“We are prisoners in the Xiang Nan Prison of the Hubei Province in China. 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. We work as hard as oxen in the field.”
“We call on the international community to condemn the Chinese government for the violation of our human rights!”
Wisinska bought the pants in June 2011 at low-cost retailer Primark in Belfast, but they had remained on a shelf, unworn, until recently.
“I was shocked to find this note and card inside the trousers from Primark and even more shocked to discover that it appears to have been made under slave labour conditions in a Chinese prison,” Wisinska was quoted by Amnesty as saying. “I am only sorry that I did not discover the note when I first purchased the clothing – then I could have brought this scandal to light much earlier.”
Astonishingly, the incident follows a similar one earlier this week in which a $17 dress bought from a branch of Primark in Swansea, Wales, reportedly contained a message sewn in label (in English) that read: “forced to work exhausting hours” and a cheap top with a similar message complaining of “Degrading sweatshop conditions,” according to The Belfast Telegraph.
A Primark spokesperson tells the BBC that the firm has started an “immediate, detailed investigation.”
In a statement to the BBC, the spokesperson said:
“These three-quarter crop trousers were last ordered by Primark in early 2009 and were last sold in Northern Ireland in October 2009.
“We find it very strange that this has come to light so recently, given that the trousers were on sale four years ago. We will be contacting the customer to obtain the trousers, so we can investigate how this occurred and whether there are issues which need to be looked into.
“Nine inspections of the supplier have been carried out by Primark’s ethical standards team since 2009. To be clear, no prison or other forced labour of any kind was found during these inspections,” the statement said.