Last year, reports surfaced of a woman in Oregon who bought Halloween decorations from at Kmart, pulled the unopened package out of storage a year later, and found a letter inside from the factory worker in China who packaged them. This was no lighthearted note. It was a desperate cry for help secretly written at night inside a Chinese labor camp.
At the time, we didn’t post this story. It seemed too horrible. We know, on some level, that it’s possible that the everyday items we own that come from faraway outsourced factories were made by tiny children or political prisoners, but don’t want to accept that it’s true. The only proof of was a note in flawed but understandable English with some clarification in Chinese. “If you occasionally [sic] buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization. Thousands people here… will thank and remember you forever,” the mysterious worker wrote.
The woman who bought the Halloween decorations made the letter public. Well, first she sent it to human rights groups, but they didn’t answer her. Posting it on Facebook drew worldwide attention. That was more than a year after the writer tucked it between two tombstones. Instead of storming the gates of the labor camp, the world sort of forgot about the Halloween decoration letter. CNN didn’t, though.
Their staff in Beijing spent months searching for the man. Finally, they found him and confirmed his identity, but didn’t reveal it to the public. He is a follower of Falun Gong, which most of the world calls a Buddhist-Taoist spiritual movement but the Chinese government considers a dangerous cult. He was sentenced to two and a half years in the Masanjia labor camp.
He reports sleep deprivation, beatings, and other misery in the labor camp. Making Halloween decorations for no pay was actually a reprieve for the inmates. Still, he decided to send a total of six letters, somehow procuring two items that inmates weren’t supposed to have: paper (taken from a re-education workbook) and a pen. He wrote the letter in bed, in the dark, avoiding the gaze of the guard who watched everyone while they slept. You know, to make sure they weren’t doing anything subversive like sending letters to the West in the products they were packaging.
Go ahead and read or watch the entire CNN story and its reporting on the labor camp and interviews with other inmates. You’ll be glad you did. Maybe “glad” isn’t the right word, since you might start to rethink everything you buy at the store.
Sears Holdings, for their part, says that they had no idea that their supplier used labor from such a facility, and they no longer work with that supplier.