Desperate Pleas For Help From Factory Workers Are Turning Up In Shoppers’ Clothes

A desperate note from a factory worker has been found in a pair of pants from discount retailer Primark, making even more of a case for steering clear of our fast fashion addictions whenever possible. Karen Wisínska bought the pants in a Belfast Primark in 2011 and hadn’t worn them until recently. When she discovered the note, she reached out to Amnesty International to get involved.

The note, that has “SOS! SOS! SOS!” written across the top, translates to:

We are prisoners in the Xiang Nan Prison of the Hubei Province in China. Our job inside the prison is to produce fashion clothes for export.

We work 15 hours per day and the food we eat wouldn’t even be given to dogs or pigs. We work as hard as oxen in the field.

We call on the international community to condemn the Chinese government for the violation of our human rights!

Two other notes, which also describe deplorable working conditions, have been discovered by Primark customers at other store locations in the past week. Primark employed garment workers at Rana Plaza, the factory that collapsed last year, killing 1,135 workers. In light of Wisínska’s finding, the store released the following statement to the BBC:

These three-quarter crop trousers were last ordered by Primark in early 2009 and were last sold in Northern Ireland in October 2009. We find it very strange that this has come to light so recently, given that the trousers were on sale four years ago. We will be contacting the customer to obtain the trousers, so we can investigate how this occurred and whether there are issues which need to be looked into. Nine inspections of the supplier have been carried out by Primark’s ethical standards team since 2009. To be clear, no prison or other forced labour of any kind was found during these inspections.

The store says it intends to investigate the matter immediately. I could be overthinking it, but something about the tone of this statement alludes that Primark seeks to somehow punish the writer of the note. Wisínska tells reporters that she regrets not having found the note years earlier when she purchased the pants so she could have drawn attention to the situation earlier.

There have been doubts as to whether the note is authentic or some kind of publicity stunt. Even if it were found to be fake, it doesn’t change the fact that factory workers across the world do face terrible conditions, and that any attention drawn to that reality is beneficial. It’s easy to look the other way, especially when these low-paid laborers are what makes it possible to buy such cheap dresses at Forever 21 and H&M, but ethically made (and higher-quality) clothes are more accessible than many of us realize! Even one person choosing to avoid stores that mistreat their employees is a step in the right direction, and prevents companies from continuing to get away with this abuse.