The Chinese company that supplied the cards, Zhejiang Yunguang Printing, also denied the claims and suggested that the allegations were a “challenge” against China’s human rights record.
Six-year-old Florence Widdicombe from Tooting found a message inside a Christmas card that said: “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation.”
The message urged the reader to contact Peter Humphrey, a British former journalist and corporate fraud investigator who was imprisoned in the same jail from 2014 to 2015.
The card containing the message came from Tesco, which said it had immediately suspended using the factory as a supplier and that an investigation will ensue.
A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry told a press briefing: “I can responsibly say, according to the relevant departments, Shanghai’s Qingpu prison does not have this issue of foreign prisoners being forced to work.”
He dismissed the allegations as “a farce created by Mr Humphrey”.
Mr Humphrey wrote in The Sunday Times that he did not know who the prisoners were, but he “had no doubt they are Qingpu prisoners who knew me before my release”.
Mr Humphrey spent 23 months in the prison on charges of illegally obtaining private records of Chinese citizens and selling the information to clients.
Zhejiang Yunguang Printing told Chinese news site The Global Times that they only became aware of the accusations when contacted by foreign media, and threatened legal action against media outlets if no evidence can be produced.
A spokesperson said: “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?”
The company is also a supplier for Australia’s Cotton On Group, which has announced it will launch an investigation to ensure they follow their supplier code of conduct, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Additional reporting by agencies
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