Letter was hidden in this type of boxIt was the last thing 42-year-old mom Julie Keith expected to find when she opened a box of Halloween decorations: Stuffed between two styrofoam headstones was a letter, folded into eighths. Written in a combination of broken English and Chinese characters, the unsigned note told a horrifying story. It began:
Sir, If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization. Thousands people here who are under the persicution [sic] of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.
This product produced by Unit 8, Department 2, Mashanjla Labour Camp, Shen Young, Liaoning, China.
Keith, a charity worker who'd purchased the decorations a year earlier at Kmart, read on in horror:
People who work here have to work 15 hours a day without Saturday (or) Sunday break and any holidays, otherwise they will suffer torturement [sic], beat and rude remark, nearly no payment (10 Yuan/one month).
People who work here suffer punishment 1-3 years averagelly [sic], but without court sentence. Many of them are Falun Gong practitioners who are totally innocent people. Only because they have different believe [sic] to the CCPG, they often suffer more punishment than others.
10 Yuan per month is roughly equivalent to $1.61 per month in US dollars.
Keith posted the letter on Facebook, hoping to get some advice from friends about what to do. Finally she turned the letter and the box of decorations over to agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations. According to Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, the letter coule be a hoax -- but it could just as easily be the real thing:
"I think it is fair to say the conditions described in the letter certainly conform to what we know about conditions in re-education through labor camps," she says. In case you didn't know (I didn't), China's "re-education through labor" is a "system of punishment that allows for detention without trial."
Wow. Sears Holdings Corporation, which owns Kmart, is currently investigating the matter, as the terms of their Global Compliance Program forbid forced labor. But whatever happens, whether this letter is real or a hoax or what, it's worth thinking about: These labor camps DO exist, and a huge percentage of the products we buy on a daily basis are made at the expense of those workers. All to save a few bucks. But are we really? Especially considering the current unemployment rate? The reality isn't pleasant, but we can't afford to ignore it any longer.
Do you ever think about where the things you buy are produced and whether the workers are suffering?
Image via ebay