Tesco halts production of charity Christmas cards after girl, 6, finds plea for help 'from prison slaves'

23 December 2019, 11:02

Florence found a note in one of her Christmas cards
Florence found a note in one of her Christmas cards. Picture: PA Images

Tesco has been forced to withdraw Christmas cards from sale after claims of forced labour.

A six-year-old girl was left horrified when she found a plea for help written inside a charity Christmas card.

Florence Widdicombe was writing cards to her school friends when she discovered a note in one of them - featuring a kitten with a Santa hat - which alleged they were made using 'prison labour'.

As reported by the Sunday Times, the message read: “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qinqpu prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation.”

It asked whoever found the message to contact British journalist Peter Humphrey, who was said to have been imprisoned there four years ago.

Florence Widdicombe with the Tesco Christmas card
Florence Widdicombe with the Tesco Christmas card. Picture: PA Images

Florence, from Tooting, south London, told BBC News: “It made me feel shocked," adding she felt "sad".

Read More: Genius mum claims homemade ‘Christmas morning box’ is the key to a stress-free day

Her dad, Ben Widdicombe, added: "It hits home. There are injustices in the world and there are people in difficult situations and we know about that and we read about that each and every day.

"There is something about that message hitting home at Christmas... that really does make it very poignant and very powerful."

Read More: Jobless dad-of-eight who won £3.75 million on gambling site still claims £3,000 a month of benefits

Florence writing in Tesco Christmas cards
Florence writing in Tesco Christmas cards. Picture: PA Images

After Mr Widdicombe contacted Peter Humphrey, he is said to have got in touch with other former prisoners.

One ex-prisoner told The Times: “They have been packing Christmas cards for Tesco, and also Tesco gift tags, for at least two years.

“The foreign prisoners just package the cards. They pick different designs, put them into boxes, seal them and pack them into shipping cartons.”

A spokeswoman from Tesco has since told PA that the supermarket has now postponed any production with the supplier.

"We would never allow prison labour in our supply chain," she said.

"We were shocked by these allegations and immediately halted production at the factory where these cards are produced and launched an investigation.

"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."

She added: "If evidence is found we will permanently de-list the supplier."

It’s been reported that Tesco donates £300,000 every year from the sale of the cards to charities British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK.

Following the allegations, the Chinese foreign ministry has said the reports are "a farce".

Speaking to the nationalist newspaper Global Times on Monday, a spokesman for the card supplier added: "We only became aware of this when some foreign media contacted us. We have never done such a thing.

"Why did they include our company's name?"