Chinese Prison ID Found Sewn in Coat Sold in UK

The discovery raised concerns of forced labour in British supply chains, but the fashion brand said the card belongs to an employee who used to be in prison.
Chinese Prison ID Found Sewn in Coat Sold in UK
A guard looks through the window of a hallway inside the No.1 Detention Center during a government guided tour in Beijing, China on Oct. 25, 2012. (Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)
Lily Zhou
12/1/2023
Updated:
12/1/2023
0:00

A Chinese prison ID was found to be sewn in a coat by a shopper from Derbyshire who bought it in a Black Friday sale.

The discovery has raised fresh concerns over the presence of forced labour in the UK’s supply chains.

Regatta, the British fashion brand that sold the coat, said the card appeared to belong to an employee of the Chinese factory who had previously spent time in prison. It also refuted the implication that they use forced prison labour.

The woman who bought the coat, who didn’t want to be named, told the Guardian that she received the coat on Nov. 22 and cut it after feeling a hard rectangular item in the right sleeve that restricted the movement of her elbow.

The report said a customer service agent initially told the women it was a work ID from the factory and that she could throw it away, but the company contacted her later, asking her to return the ID and offered to send her a new coat.

The woman “declined the offer but retrieved the card from the bin,” the report said.

She told the Guardian, “I don’t feel very comfortable with it … I know it is legal in China, and we have different standards and things like that in the UK, but you still don’t expect prisoners to be making clothes.”

The incident sparked concerns of modern slavery as forced labour is common practice in Chinese prisons.

In 2019, Tesco suspended a Chinese supplier of Christmas cards after British schoolgirl Florence Widdicombe found a card that reads, “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organization.”
Sun Yi, an adherent of Falun Gong spiritual movement has also famously hidden SOS letters in packages from a Chinese prison, with one of them, lying in a box of K-Mart Halloween decorations, finding its way to Julie Keith, a mother of two in Oregon.

Alicia Kearns MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee who is sanctioned by the Chinese regime for raising human rights concerns, said the story suggests “brands are not doing enough.”

Regatta later said in an email to The Epoch Times that its investigation “found credible evidence that points toward this being an isolated incident.”

The company took the incident “very seriously” and launched “an immediate investigation,” a spokesperson said.

“As a business and members of the Ethical Trading Initiative, we have strict policies in place to ensure ethical working standards for all, and zero tolerance for forced or prison labour.”

The spokesperson said a “thorough investigation” found the Chinese factory to be “fully compliant,” and that “numerous inspections of the factory, including a certified third-party visit to the site, found no breaches of any of our policies.”

“Our investigation has found credible evidence that points toward this being an isolated incident by an employee who had spent time in prison before his employment with the factory. Our investigation showed no indicators that prison labour was present in the factory at any time,” the statement reads.

“From the limited images shared by the customer, it is perceived that the ID is dated 2022. Regatta Ltd. has payroll documentation to show the person pictured on the ID was an employee who received a wage. The individual had an employment contract with the factory and was not working under forced or prison conditions. The employee shown on the ID was employed by the factory from March 2023—June 2023. The garment in question was produced during the individual’s employment and shipped from the factory in July 2023 (one month after the individual’s employment ceased),” the spokesperson added.

Regatta said it’s continuing to investigate how the card ended up in the coat.

The company also said it has taken advice from the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) in relation to this matter.

Regatta didn’t answer The Epoch Times’s follow-up questions, including the name of the factory.

In a statement emailed to The Epoch Times by Regatta, ETI executive director Peter McAllister said, “Regatta has been an active member of ETI since 2012 and fully understands their responsibilities with respect to workers in their supply chain. Regatta alerted us to the situation of alleged prison labour at one of the factories producing for them in China. They have undertaken the steps we would expect to investigate this allegation and gather evidence to determine what the situation is at the factory. We know that Regatta takes this allegation seriously and we will work with them to ensure the situation is clear and any needed action is taken.”