Woman finds an SOS note in her trousers from a 'Chinese prisoner'

A pair of trousers purchased from a British outlet contained a note describing terrible forced labour conditions in China

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 7:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2014, 6:39pm

A note that seems to be a cry for help from a Chinese prison inmate has been discovered inside a garment purchased at a popular UK clothing retailer.

Karen Wisinska of Northern Ireland found the note in a pair of trousers she had purchased from Primark, a British-owned Irish clothing chain.

The note was composed entirely in simplified Chinese characters except for three SOS cries written across its top.

“We are prisoners of the Xiang Nan Prison of China’s Hubei province,” the note read. “Our job is to make fashionable clothes for export. Everyday, we work 15 hours and eat food that wouldn’t even be given to dogs or pigs. We’re forced to work like oxen in the field. We call upon the international community to condemn the Chinese government for these human rights violations!”

Wisinska, who appealed to Amnesty International after translating the note, told the human rights organisation she had originally purchased the trousers in 2011 for ten pounds (HK$132) but had kept them closeted away and unworn for three years due to a broken zipper.

"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," she said. “I am only sorry that I did not…[bring] this scandal to light much earlier.”

In a June 24 press release, Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, called the incident “a horrific tale”.

“It’s very difficult to know whether it's genuine, but the fear has to be that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Corrigan said. “There is no excuse for any UK company to be profiting from forced labour in Chinese prisons.

“They should be monitoring their supply chains and terminating contracts when they discover abuses. The [British] government should now amend its Modern Day Slavery Bill to require companies to keep their supply chains free of such abuses.”

In a June 25 statement, Primark denied that any of the company’s garments were created in forced labour conditions, and noted that the trousers Wisinska had purchased 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,” the statement read.

Primark pledged to “start detailed investigations” into the case along with two other scandals that have affected the company recently.

In late June, two other women discovered messages sewn into the labels of dresses they had purchased from one of Primark’s outlets in Swansea, Wales. The labels read “forced to work exhausting hours” and “degrading sweatshop conditions” respectively.

“We are requesting to collect [all] three items from the customers,” Primark’s press statement read. “We will then be able to detail the circumstances in which the additional label or information was attached.”