CHINA has denied that inmates at a Shanghai prison are being used for forced labour after a young girl found a plea for help in a Christmas card.
Six-year-old Florence Widdicombe, from Tooting, south London, found the message after opening a box of charity cards she had bought from Tesco to send to her friends.
The message was published in last week's Sunday Times , and moved Tesco to suspend production at the factory where the cards were produced.
"We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu Prison China," the card read.
"Forced to work against our will.
"Please help us and notify human rights organisation."
It also asked the recipient to "contact Mr Peter Humphrey".
Peter Humphrey is a British journalist who was released in 2015 after spending nine months of a 23-month incarceration in the prison.
He also authored the Sunday Times piece.
Responding to the report, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters: "I can responsibly say, according to the relevant organs, Shanghai's Qingpu prison does not have this issue of foreign prisoners being forced to work."
He went on to claim that the story was a "farce created by Mr. Humphrey".
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Zhejiang Yunguang Printing, who run the factory where the cards were being produced, also issued a denial, claiming the allegations were politically motivated.
"We have never done such a thing," it told China's Global Times .
"We have never had any connection with any prison.
"Are they trying to stir up a political thing?
"Are they trying to challenge our country's human rights?"
Qingpu Prison is located on the outskirts of Shanghai in eastern China, and houses mostly foreign nationals.
Humphrey said he had “no doubt" the message was written by "Qingpu prisoners who knew me before my release in June 2015".
He also said that other former inmates had confirmed that many held at the prison are forced to carry out manual work.
After Tesco suspended production, a spokesperson said: "We abhor the use of prison labour and would never allow it in our supply chain.
"We have a comprehensive auditing system in place and this supplier was independently audited as recently as last month and no evidence was found to suggest they had broken our rule banning the use of prison labour.
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"If a supplier breaches these rules, we will immediately and permanently de-list them."
They added that the cards had for now been withdrawn from sale.