Is this handwritten, unsigned note found inside a sealed package of Halloween decorations real? If so, what can be done about the allegations of China's forced labor camps, torture, and almost no wages?
The note was found by Julie Keith. The emotional letter had been sitting inside the package of a K-Mart 17 'Totally Ghoul Piece Graveyard Kit" that Ms. Keith purchased a year ago to decorate her home. She did not use it last year. However, this past Halloween, Julie decided to open the box. That's when she discovered the folded, handwritten note wedged between styrofoam skulls and bones.
"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 of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever."
The letter continues, adding allegations of the horrible conditions under which the laborers are working;
- 15 hour workdays
- seven days a week (no holidays)
- low wages of 10 yuan per month (that works out to about $1.60 per month in U.S. dollars)
For the record, China Daily reports that the average monthly salary for workers in that country ranges from 2742 to 4672 / yuan per month (or $440 to $750 per month). A salary of 10 yuan per month would be less than 5% of what the poorest regions are paying workers.
The author claims that many of the laborers are there for 1-3 years as punishment, although they were not afforded a trial. And poor work (in the eyes of the supervisors) often triggers torture and rude remarks.
There is also a charge in the unsigned letter that workers are forced to be there in retaliation for being Falun Gong members (something that is not approved by the CCPG - Central China Power Group).
Can this unsigned letter, alleged to be from a Chinese forced labor camp be real? It is difficult to say. However, one expert on human rights in China believes claims made in the letter match charges they have seen before. The Oregonian reports that Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch made the following comment:
"We're in no position to confirm the veracity or origin of this. I think it's fair to say the conditions in the letter certainly conform to what we know about conditions in re-education in labor camps."
If the letter is accurate, and forced labor camps are churning out products for K-Mart or any American retailer, that's not just a moral problem, it is also against the law. Since 1932, the U.S. does not permit importation of "convict-made goods." The code - 19 U.S.C. 1307 is quite clear and also includes products made in labor camps in its definition of "convict-made."
"Forced labor", as herein used, shall mean all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its nonperformance and for which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily."
The Portland newspaper's investigation included calls to government agencies that have started digging deeper into the charges made in the letter. The paper also reached out to Sears Holdings (the parent company of K-Mart) for comment on a possible violation of the U.S. Trade laws.
Sears issued the following response.
"Sears Holdings has a Global Compliance Program which helps to ensure that vendors and factories producing merchandise for our company adhere to specific Program Requirements, and all local laws pertaining to employment standards and workplace practices. Failure to comply with any of the Program Requirements, including the use of forced labor, may result in a loss of business or factory termination. We understand the seriousness of this allegation, and will continue to investigate."
Sears has launched an investigation into the charges, the U.S. Customs Agency has been engaged, and Human Rights Watch is also looking into the letter. Yet, there is not an expectation of fast answers to the questions raised by the letter found inside "Totally Ghoul" Halloween decorating kit.
And yet, the mysterious missive seems to have sparked a change in the woman who found it. Julie Keith is now checking the labels of virtually everything she buys. She told the Oregonian:
"If I really don't need it, I won't buy it if it's made in China. This has really made me more aware. I hope it would make a difference."