Making the front page of The Sunday Times, headlined on BBC News (among other media) and going right into the hearts of those in the greeting card industry was the news that a six year old British girl found a chilling message from an inmate in a China prisoner written inside a Tesco charity Christmas card pack saying prisoners were being forced to pack the cards against their will.
In what should have been a positive greeting card experience for six-year old Florence Widdicombe who was happily writing Christmas cards to her friends from her home in London’s Tooting stopped when she lifted the lid on a human rights injustice.
Handwritten in capital letters was the message: “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation.”
The message urged making contact with Peter Humphrey, a British former journalist who had spent two years at the prison before being released in 2015.
Having momentarily dismissed the message as a prank Florence’s parents did indeed contact Peter Humphrey who then delved deeper to validate the written claim and wrote the front page story for the Sunday Times to help ensure justice is done.
As other media, from Sky News to the Daily Mail, the Guardian to the Sun latched onto the news, Tesco was very quick to respond to the situation. In an official press release issued yesterday (December 22) on the day that the story broke, the grocer stated: ‘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 We have also withdrawn these cards from sale whilst we investigate.’
Tesco has also stressed how it has a comprehensive auditing system in place and the supplier in question was independently audited as recently as last month and no evidence was found to suggest they had broken the rule banning the use of prison labour. ‘If a supplier breaches these rules, we will immediately and permanently de-list them,’ assures Tesco.
The card in question was from the supermarket’s own brand range of charity cards, sold for £1.50 per box of 20 or three boxes for £3, which this year will see £300,000 donated to the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK.
The three charities, 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.”
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme covered the story today charity touching on the merits of buying charity Christmas cards as well as the highlighting how complexities in supply chain management has the potential to cause issues.
“Is this a case of gross misconduct or a complicated supply chain issue?” asked Radio 4 presenter of Peter McAllister, executive director of the Ethical Trading Initiative, of which Tesco is a member. “I think it is a case of the latter,” said Peter.
The programme did state the charities receive considerable sums from the sale of Christmas cards from retailers although did moot that it was preferable to buy direct from the charities.
Top: Tesco acted swiftly as soon as the issue came to light.