NEW YORK, May 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Giant U.S.
retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Wednesday it is
looking into the origins of a note describing forced labor
conditions in China that a customer claimed to find in a purse
bought at a store in Arizona.
The note detailed long hours, beatings and malnourishment of
workers at a prison in the Chinese region of Guangxi, according
to the customer's family who contacted local media.
Similar notes found by customers in imported merchandise
have raised questions about forced labor used in supply chains
making brands sold at major retail stores.
Globally, nearly 21 million people are estimated to be
victims of forced labor, according to the International Labour
Wal-Mart on Wednesday said it was investigating.
"We're making contact with the customer and appreciate her
bringing this to our attention. With the information we have, we
are looking into what happened so we can take the appropriate
actions," Ragan Dickens, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said in an e-mail
to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The customer told local media late last month that the note
was hand-written in Chinese but she had it translated into
English three times.
According to KVOA.com News in Tucson, Arizona, the note
read, in part: "Inmates in the Yingshan Prison in Guangxi, China
are working 14 hours daily with no break/rest at noon, continue
working overtime until 12 midnight, and whoever doesn't finish
his work will be beaten.
Prisoners are treated worse than "horse cow goat pig dog,"
Wal-Mart's website details the company's efforts to keep its
supply chains free of forced labor and human trafficking.
"We are working to improve transparency, empower workers and
drive compliance," it says.
In a similar case, in 2014 a woman found a message in a Saks
Fifth Avenue shopping bag from a man saying he was
forced to work long hours at a Chinese prison factory. The
worker was tracked down, and the note deemed legitimate. He was
In 2012 a Kmart shopper reported finding a letter
at his local U.S. store from a worker also describing harrowing
work conditions in China.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Ellen
Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)