Mysterious letter sparks curiosity, investigations

An Oregon woman says she found a note pleading for help in a box of Halloween novelties. The discovery is getting attention from federal authorities.

By Bruce Kennedy Dec 31, 2012 10:52AM

Image: China (Brand X/SuperStock)It sounds like something out of a thriller novel -- and it still hasn't been verified. But a letter recently found in a box of Chinese-made Halloween decorations has sparked investigations into whether some products imported from the People's Republic are -- against U.S. laws -- being made under forced labor.

Earlier this month, the Oregonian reported the story of the discovery by Julie Keith, who works at a Goodwill facility in Portland, Ore. For years, a brand-new "Totally Ghoul" graveyard kit from Kmart had sat in her garage, and when she finally opened it in October, she found a note written in choppy English.

"Sir," the letter began, "if you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization."

The unsigned letter, which also has notes in Chinese characters, outlined the alleged abuse of workers at the Manshanjia Labor Camp in the northeastern Liaoning Province. (You can see the letter here.)

"People who work here have to work 15 hours a day," the note continues, "with out Saturday Sunday break and any holidays. Otherwise they will suffer torturement beat and rude remark." The note also says workers at the camp make about 10 Chinese Yuan -- or about $1.60 U.S. – a month.

Unsure of where to turn, Keith published the letter on Facebook and asked for comment.  Some people questioned whether the letter was real -- but it has nonetheless made an impact.

U.S. law prohibits the importation of any good, wares, article or merchandise "mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor or/and indentured labor."

"We're in no position to confirm the veracity or origin of this," Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told The Oregonian. "I think it is fair to say the conditions described in the letter certainly conform to what we know about conditions in re-education through labor camps."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is also looking into the letter, as is Sears Holdings Corporation (SHLD), which operates Kmart.

"Sears Holdings has a Global Compliance Program which helps to ensure that vendors and factories producing merchandise for our company adhere to specific Program Requirements, and all local laws pertaining to employment standards and workplace practices," the company told The Oregonian.

"Failure to comply with any of the Program Requirements, including the use of forced labor, may result in a loss of business or factory termination. We understand the seriousness of this allegation, and will continue to investigate."

Meanwhile, the New York-based NTD Television network -- which says its mission is to "bring truthful and uncensored information into and out of China," ran a news report featuring comments from what it said were former detainees at the Masanjia labor camp -- corroborating the abuse claims made in the letter.

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Jan 2, 2013 4:13PM
Oh by the way, one of the shirts that I purchased for my son this year was made in PAKISTAN!!!!!!!!!
Jan 2, 2013 4:08PM
What irritates me is the manufactures that have moved their companies overseas to hire cheap, very cheap workers to make their products. The people who were making the products here lost their jobs because their companies were moved overseas for cheap labor. It's not only China, it's many other poor countries.( Sometime look up the health care in the Dominican Republic.) It's awful the way countries allow this to happen. But if the poor need to feed a family, their only option is to work at these bad factories. Then what really makes me angry is the fact that when the product comes back into our country the people who lost their jobs are expected to buy the same product that they used to make here!! 
Jan 2, 2013 3:35PM
corpo gov lawlessness rules the world incl usa
Jan 2, 2013 3:25PM
Sears doesn't give a crap about their employees, so why should they care about your labor camp?
Jan 2, 2013 3:03PM
" prohibits the importation of any good, wares, article or merchandise "mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor or/and indentured labor."

Well that would be a bout 90% of the products in the USA. So much for that law working out.

The USA needs to forget the note and other countries problems. Work on this country!
Jan 2, 2013 2:40PM
Would it be polically incorrect to have a MADE IN THE USA STORE???  Only products made in good old America (North).  I wonder???????
Jan 2, 2013 1:46PM
Everyone that buys an Iphone promotes this very thing
Jan 2, 2013 1:45PM
The letter (click on the link in the article to read it, the writer is clearly educated) states an important factoid that the article has neglected to mention...  those enslaved at this labor camp are being persecuted for their spiritual beliefs.  They are Falun Gong practitioners and the Chinese Communist Party is hell bent on the complete focus of science while being adverse to any spiritual practices.  The CCP wants little robotic mind slaves in their populace and are willing to torture and enslave people who practice Falun Gong or otherwise aren't completely committed to Communist China.  So many atrocities are committed by this governmental party, some of the the worst in the world.  Wiki has a good page on Falun Gong.  Folks, when we buy Chinese products, we support evil.  It's really as simple as that.   
Jan 2, 2013 1:03PM

Did all of the readers forget which president opened the free trade agreement with China without any stipulations and another president who simply ignores the laws of the United States like the current President Obama? It was President Clinton, who ignored the U.S. law in the article:


“ prohibits the importation of any good, wares, article or merchandise "mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor or/and indentured labor."”

Jan 2, 2013 1:02PM
If there are fingerprints other than the woman who found the note,  it's probably not a hoax.
Jan 2, 2013 12:14PM
Very brave of the note writer. I do hope Sears will follow through but I haven't been left with a lot of hope this last few years.
Jan 2, 2013 12:02PM

This is ridiculous!! If this letter is for real and not some hoax, this needs to stop! We have way too many greedy politicians, investors, lobbyists, corporations, union workers and employees who are constantly demanding more and more instead of being content with what they have. The greed needs to end at every level so we can bring jobs back to the US.

Jan 2, 2013 11:31AM

The only way these thing will stop is we boycott all the good from china. Hit them where it hurts most. But no it will not happen because we want everything cheap and the give you that. I do not buy anything made in china ever if mean I go without.

Jan 2, 2013 11:30AM
We are at war with China and the Chinese has been at war with us since the Korean War. This war is an undeclared war and it is a financial war to destroy this country...............I think it is working!
Jan 2, 2013 11:04AM
What a deal we get on these products though. $1.60 per month is a little low though, maybe they should give them a raise to $2.50.
Jan 2, 2013 10:40AM
"{ prohibits the importation of any good, wares, article or merchandise "mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor or/and indentured labor."  Passing laws is just a "smoke screen' to make people think the our government really cares. How come our government don't go in an rescue these people then ? Why. Well our government employees make money off these people by investing in American companies on the stock market to boost their own retirement incomes.Why would you care about some one only making "10 Chinese Yuan -- or about $1.60 U.S. – a month." when the company your invested in is making you thousands that goes into your 401 K?
Jan 2, 2013 10:31AM
The article said the kit sat for years.  How many years?  The writer should have investigated that.  Perhaps it was 10 years ago or even longer.  Perhaps changes have or have not been made since the kit was assembled. Incomplete journalism.
Jan 2, 2013 10:28AM
And this kind of labor is the good duty.  There are prison labor crews breaking rocks and placing them in the new road sub-beds all over China.  Only the strong survive that kind of labor on nothing but rice and water.
Jan 2, 2013 9:57AM
Now that is a real right to work state. They don't pay no union dues in China.
Jan 2, 2013 9:36AM
How can we trust Sears; just a few weeks ago it was disclosed that some of their "Made in USA" Craftsman tools were actually made in China. If we can't inspect the factories, worker living conditions and interview workers, do not buy their products. If the government is realy concerned they should accidently take hi def satelite pics of the area. It is time to wake up and realize that China's goal is to dominate the global market by using unsafe environment and labor practices while using slave labor. Once they have accomplished this we in America will regret buying all the cheap Chinese goods. Bring industry back to the USA and avoid made in China at all costs!!!
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