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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Dec 31, 2012 3:30PM

Today, I pray for those who do not have rights as we do here in the great USA.  I may not always agree with my government but I am thankful to be allowed the right to disagree.  I'm not happy about the cost of gas, but I am thankful to have a car to put it in.  I am not happy with my current employment situation but I am thankful for the job I have and the ability to put food on the table and a roof over head.


People please, be thankful for what you have today and be compassionate for those who were not born into such a great country as ours.

Dec 31, 2012 4:40PM
What surprises me about this article is that there have not been more of these pleas for help.  We have been sold out to China by a small group of corporations and the goods we buy are made by people who are virtual slaves, indentured servants and children.  Wake up America.
Dec 31, 2012 6:00PM
don't buy chinese junk!!  they r  r worst enemies.  they will conquer us w/o firing a shot!!!!!
Dec 31, 2012 5:14PM
When you want something to cost less someone has to be paid less and capitalists are more than happy to minipulate Chinese and turn their backs on human rights. The rich control it all - You, me, and everyone. All for the mighty dollar. It makes me sick. Chinese working in conditions subhuman while the American CEO gets a raise and lives high on the hog. I thought we came to america to escape the persecution of England and here we are the persecutors ourselves. I love America and its time to stand against these PIGS that give us a bad name! 
Dec 31, 2012 7:16PM
This is why we need to buy American made products.  Do NOT support countries who treat their workers this way, no matter how cheap (inexpensive) their products are.  The human rights abuses in this country and in other Third World countries are apalling.   Keep this in mind when you shop at discount retailers like Wal-Mart and K-Mart and the like. 
It's time to establish the United States as a once again manufacrturing nation and demolish the Wal Marts of the World who cater to the selfish demogogues of greed. America can survive on its own resources and manufacuring ability as we did once before. Corporate bribery of our government must cease. Thank god we still have voting rights and privledges but for how long ?
Dec 31, 2012 7:50PM
Chinese adult labor abuse?
What do you expect from a country that has individuals tainting baby formula that killed babies!

Dec 31, 2012 11:08AM
What I really want to know is why gas prices seemed to have "doubled overnight" from what we were paying a few years ago.  If were taxed heavily to pay off govt debt, I could understand.....but because of pure greed....that's not right.
Jan 1, 2013 12:14AM
Wish they could just make stuff here again! A good freind of mine, who's really up on this stuff said China bought all or most of our debt. Which means we HAVE to have our stuff made there to pay them back, and yes, it IS cheaper cause of lax laws, cheap wages, no overhead or workman's comp. I think this letter is real.
Dec 31, 2012 6:49PM

Sears is a liar .I use to work for them in their warehouse facility and they indeed import products from China!


Dec 31, 2012 9:30PM
If the Chinese won't let us monitor their factories, then we should boycott their products. Why not open up factories in Latin America? These factories would be easier to monitor and the shipping would be less. It would also help with the immigration problem.
Dec 31, 2012 9:00PM
Jan 1, 2013 7:41AM

Seen a documentary not too long ago on the conditions these PEOPLE work and live in. I think it was a factory if I'm not mistaken. These young adults were basically forced to live in cells with bunks and no space at all. They had to share a "restroom" with hundreds of others. Their salaries were dwindled down to almost nothing after the fees for room and board were deducted. They had to follow their employer's guidelines and terms... which consisted of a curfew and strict rules against leaving the premises. All this, just to be "employed".

Dec 31, 2012 10:21PM

If you click on the source and actually read the article as well as the letter two things pop out that no one is addressing (why am I not surprised?) - first, the letter was discovered in a boxed item the woman had for YEARS and had not opened.  The author of this missive may no longer be alive.


Second not only is the author of the letter asking for help for/recognition of the deplorable conditions but also trying to bring to light that this is  a forced labor camp where people are sent because they disagree with their government - hence the high probability of well-educated people being, erm, "re-educated" . 

Of course it is all a hoax and a rumor - rather like those concentration camps during world war II.

No one believed it ..... did they?  (I think the average person couldn't even conceive of it let alone believe it)


Ameliapaige, thank you for being a voice of compassion.


Let us pray further that good comes of this.




Jan 1, 2013 1:14AM
BUT WAIT !!  Giving CHINA the OLYMPICS was supposed to change all this.  What happened?
Dec 31, 2012 10:07PM
hilarious how noone ever makes the connection between chinese outsourcing and unions..does everyone think that if was 'cheap' to make things in the U.S. that maybe, just maybe a few more precious jobs would be here? but no, 20 bucks an hour isnt enough, people that screw on bolts with no education deserve 80K salaries, full benefits, pensions til death, security, stupid leftists do not see the idiotic cycle your dumb misguided policies lead us, and unions are the worst!! nobody dies on the job anymore!!!! Ford motor company is not trying to pay its laborers below minimum wage!! if you feel sorry for some chinese woman making the Ipad that your reading this article on, and then want to blame it on America, make sure you blame it on the greedy unions who are hand in hand with the politicians and ruining manufacturing in the US...dont blame it on smart management who realized an opportunity and decided to flip the bird to the greedy union members; MODERN DAY UNIONS: WORST THING GOING IN AMERICA RIGHT NOW
Dec 31, 2012 4:27PM

In China all students are required to learn English.  Many foriegn teachers are there for that reason.


Jan 1, 2013 8:29AM
get used to it, they are coming here.
Dec 31, 2012 8:32PM

Maybe we should add greed to mental illness.  I'm sure there would be many  jobs to assess the nature of greed.  We could add human rights violators as a mental illness.  What we should do is have the cooperations and wallstreeters who violate pay half their profits to the govt who then should  reimburse those who have suffered under their mental  illness.  If so  maybe then this form of mental  illness can be "cured"    Or we could classify them and I'm  sure the  drug companies in their "greed" will come up with medications to stop  those greedy b.....ds.  Using  people for profit is a mental  illness, as bad as any of the mass killers we've heard about in the papers.  Only, we don't think of it that way.  It just takes longer for them to die. 

Jan 1, 2013 3:47PM
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