LONDON — Snowy penguin Christmas cards sold by a major British retailer came under scrutiny on Friday after one shopper found a handwritten note ostensibly from a Chinese prisoner inside.
Jessica Rigby, 27, from Essex in southeast England found the scrawled note in Mandarin inside the Sainsbury’s Christmas card wishing her happiness and luck and signed by “Third Product Shop, Guangzhou Prison, Number 6 District.”
Rigby told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she was shocked when she discovered what the message said after posting it on Facebook and asking for a translation.
“If they are genuinely made by Chinese prisoners what’s to say other things (Sainsbury‘s) sell aren’t made by child labor and stuff like that?”
Sainsbury’s is Britain’s second-biggest supermarket group and has been running a Christmas ad campaign themed around having “#everybitofChristmas” covered. One of the retailer’s values is “sourcing with integrity,” according to its website.
“All our suppliers have to meet our high welfare standards and strict Code of Conduct for Ethical Trade,” a spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a statement.
“We can also reassure Jessica that our Christmas cards are not produced in Chinese prisons.”
Rigby, who first reported the story to The Sun newspaper, said she was concerned about human rights abuses and political prisoners being forced to work.
“I‘m not going to say I’ll never shop in Sainsbury’s again but it has certainly made me question their ethics,” she said.
Human rights group Amnesty International said they had heard from lawyers in China that their clients detained in prisons were asked to produce goods such as chopsticks and matches.
“Although we can’t verify the authenticity of the note, it’s possible that it’s written by an inmate from the prison in Guangzhou” in southern China, said Amnesty’s Patrick Poon.
In November, former jailed Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation prisoners were being forced to work from 6am and for up to 16 hours a day in “prison factories” to turn out items such as Christmas lights and gift bags for export.
For Rigby, the note has certainly made her Christmas memorable.
“It’s made it a bit more interesting,” she said. “(It) made me think about what other people have to do to make our Christmas what it is.”