With the recent mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas that left 20+ people dead and scores more wounded, there’s nothing more startling to the public, and especially the police, than an armed man armed with a rifle in the vicinity of…a Walmart. That’s what happened in Springfield, Missouri. Seeing that there are only two reasons for someone to do this: it was either poor judgment, in which the person of interest should know better given recent headlines or this was a planned attack that was stopped by law enforcement. We don’t know what the intent was, but Springfield police said this guy is lucky to be alive and “his intent was not to cause peace or comfort to anybody that was in the business.”
A photo of the suspect shows him armed with what appears to be an AR-15 rifle or some variant of it. He remains in police custody. An off-duty fireman with a concealed carry permit was credited with stopping the suspect, holding him at gunpoint until police arrived. So, a good guy with a gun stopped a possible attack, but I’m sure the anti-gun wingnuts will keep their heads in the sand (via KOLR 10):
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“The president has instructed me to ensure that Mexico’s indignation translates into … efficient, prompt, expeditious and forceful legal actions for Mexico to take a role and demand that conditions are established that protect … Mexicans in the United States,” Ebrard said in a video posted on Twitter.
Of the 26 injured in the attack, at least nine were Mexican nationals, according to the government.
El Paso, America’s 22nd-largest city with an estimated population of 682,669, is more than 80 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. census data. El Paso sits just across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez, which has a population of 1.3 million.
The shooter appears to have been targeting Hispanics and authorities are investigating it as a hate crime. A 21-year-old Texas man was in custody.
David K. Li
David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed.
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Total Trade Stoppage With China Could Be A Good Thing For American Workers
I know that many people here in the U.S. will in the short term be hit financially if this ‘trade war’ with China continues. The American companies on the U.S. Stock Market has taken a hit with these tariffs the White House is talking about, I know this is hurting some American businesses like WalMart who import a huge amount from China, so be it, they need to be hurt, badly. There is a reason for my view, I just hope you can see what I am talking about.
American businesses need to be hurt because of their treason toward the American Nation and her people. How many thousands of businesses have been shuttered because of companies like WalMart who for a penny or two lower price per product will buy from other countries like China (whose Leaders hate us) instead of buying from U.S. Companies who have their factories here in the U.S. giving jobs to American workers. Companies like WalMart cater to low income people yet how many of these people are poor because of these companies ‘buy foreign first’ business practices? The rich, especially the super rich like to complain about the poor as people who suck away their profits and produce nothing and how they say the poor don’t pay their fair share. If an owner of a company moves their operation out of the States thus firing all their American workers it should be the Companies Leadership who should be punished, not the workers. These companies should have to pay a tariff of about 90% on all goods they import back to the American market. Make it not worth their bottom line to close American factories and fire their American workers. In the business world everything is always about profits, the money that goes to the top is the only thing that has mattered for decades not. Most businesses and government officials should be charged with treason against the the American Flag and Her people, not profit from their demise that they themselves are causing! Rebuild America’s factories and infrastructure now, create jobs for American workers first. Our exports like grain and soy beans can easily be sold to other world markets. There is no logic besides greed that dictates us selling anything to or importing anything from other countries like China whom is trying to wipe us out. But then again, these words to you today are just the opinions of an old poet.
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These days we hear alot about a trade war between the U.S. and China. Currently Chinese imports are hit with a %10 tariff and President Trump has been touting raising that to %25. What this would do is that it would raise the cost that American Retailers charge their own customers for these made in China items by about another %15. There is always the unrealistic thought that maybe the retailers wouldn’t pass their costs onto their customers. As I said, this is unrealistic and it will not happen, even if a company was willing to take that financial hit their stockholders would do a massive stock dump which would cost a company even more.
This article to you this evening is about the Walton family who oversees the direction of the WalMart/Lowes financial kingdom. WalMart buys around 60 Billion Dollars each year from China, a %25 tariff on Chinese products would cost the company about 9 Billion Dollars a year at their current purchasing levels. Have you ever gone into a WalMart store and checked where the product tag says it was made? Outside of food items of which they purchase a great deal of from Mexico, it literally seems like most everything in their stores are made in China or from some other third world nation who abuses the hell out of their employees like in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. Just think if WalMart actually did buy American products how many millions of jobs that would create here in the States. Most all of us know by now that most everything you see with a made in China tag on it you know that the product has almost no quality to it at all. Your buying junk, but supposedly your getting a ‘discounted’ price.
Another thing that People should take into account when they choose to buy made in China products is that we, just like WalMart and Target (the second biggest buyer of Chinese products) are handing their Military billions of dollars of weapons each year. Just think about it for a moment, if you buy your products at a WalMart most likely you are cutting the throats of every person in America. You give China many billions of dollars worth of weapons (which they do not buy from us) and you are cutting the throats of millions of would be American job holders. I’m just saying, think about what you are doing to all of the world when you buy this made in China junk.
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Wal-Mart’s Growth Was Through Fraud Lies and Deceit
If you are old enough to remember the Wal-Mart of the 1980’s and the mood of the nation during that time about buying American, maybe this will tweak your anger button. During the late 70’s and the 80’s was when American businesses were first starting to move overseas in alarming numbers, unfortunately we Americans are used to this treason (my view) now. Plus this was a time when Americans got hooked on cheaper imports. During this time the American auto industry was in big trouble partly because Americans were buying the cheaper Japanese models. This is a time area when you would see such bumper stickers as (can you eat your Toyota). On a sidebar though, in regards to the quality of the cars the big three were putting out at that time was pretty poor in comparison to say the Toyota’s and in this case it helped force the big three to start producing a better quality product. This coincided with the decline in union membership in America which also meant that the American worker’s paycheck was starting to shrink. This meant that people were requiring better quality transportation so they could get to their lower paying jobs.
Wal-Mart at this time used America’s consumer mood to grow itself. Their TV and Radio ads as well as their traveling billboards (their semi trailers) used to tout how they only bought American goods thus trying to get patriotic Americans to do all their shopping at Wal-Mart. There was a big problem with this though, they were totally lying, they were perpetrating a total fraud on the American people.
You may fairly ask me how I know such a thing, was I in their board room? No, but I was a long haul truck driver who hauled a lot of their incoming product. I am going to give you an example of how buffaloed people were by their fraud. I picked up loads from the docks in northern New Jersey about once a month plus once in a while in California. It was a common event when we would get a load assigned to pick up but when we got there the load would be staged on the docks but we had to in some cases wait several hours while the dock workers were having to replace all the stickers on every item with tags that said made in the USA. I asked the dock workers about these things because it always made it more difficult to make your delivery appointments on time and Wal-Mart distribution centers would fine the trucking company if you were late on your delivery and most times they would reschedule your appointment for a different day. This meant that you now had to sit in a truck stop parking lot and wait for your new appointment time. When you as a driver are doing this you get no pay at all because the trucking company got no pay at all. What I was told by more that a couple of dock workers was that it was required that when a Wal-Mart load came in they all had to be re-tagged. This was so that when the American consumer came in the store and looked at the tags they thought they were buying American made products which meant that Wal-Mart was helping protect American jobs. The truth was Wal-Mart was committing a total fraud on the American worker and the American public.
I remember one time that I had picked up a load of laundry detergent at the docks in north Jersey and the load was going to a distribution center in NW Wisconsin. That night as I was driving, the chatter on the CB was some other drivers were talking about where they were headed to and or who their customers were. Somewhere in the conversation Wal-Mart’s name came up. I then mentioned what had happened with my load on the dock and how it had put me a bit behind where I was hoping to be by this time. I remember one driver who got on his radio with much indigence in his voice said to me “how dare you slander a fine company like that”. My response to him was a simple truth, if what you say about someone or something is %100 the truth, then it is not slander, it is simply the truth. That man did not say anything to me after that but a few other drivers chimed in saying the same thing about what I had said about loads for Wal-Mart.
This is why I used the title that I did on this letter to anyone who wants to read it. Wal-Mart committed a total fraud on the American people. If you think about it, this fraud helped bring more customers into their stores so that these same customers would not go to Wal-Mart’s competitors thus giving Wal-Mart an unfair advantage , unfair because they were lying. Now look at the Wal-Mart company, have you ever gone into one of their stores and looked for the made in the USA tags. Unless USA is now spelled CHINA or INDONESIA, it’s a pretty hard tag to find. I used to like to listen to Paul Harvey on the radio every chance I could. I liked the man but he was very naive. If you remember Wal-Mart was a sponsor of his and he seemed to really believe in them. Do you remember how he used to talk how if you had a Wal-Mart store in your town how you couldn’t have a better neighbor. In reality what Wal-Mart was doing then they are still doing. When a Wal-Mart moves into your community about all if not all of your local stores are forced to close because they can’t compete with Wal-Mart buying power. This caused a problem for the people/workers of the area because once all the local stores close up the employees are laid off. In many cases about the only place they can now find work is at the Wal-Mart. But, as many of you know most Wal-Mart employees are only hired as part-time worker’s which also means when these people lost their previous job they lost income and all of their benefits like insurance. At this same time look at the wealth of the owners, the kids of Mr Walton, look at how many billions each of them are worth. Yet they won’t hire most people as full-time because they say they can’t (won’t) give their people any benefits.
You know something that I have been wondering about, would Wal-Mart be anywhere near as big today if they had not been such liars and frauds in their earlier years? One of the things that was also happening during these years I speak of is that the Federal government was breaking up monster size companies like Bell Telephone Co into several smaller companies. It is my opinion that Wal-Mart should be forced to break up into about five companies because of the help they got through fraud and lies they are now a total behemoth. The American GDP (gross domestic product) is about 11 trillion per year, Wal-Mart corporation has about 1.1 trillion dollars go through their hands now each year. Folks that is %10 of our countries GDP. I totally believe that it is dangerous for any one family to have this much control of the American people’s money supply. Especially when these people have already proven that they have no problem lying to all of us.
Now, back to the bought in the USA idea, just think if Wal-Mart and or the five or so companies I wish it would get broken into would indeed only buy from American companies where only American workers and American products produced them, think what a boom to our economy this would produce. If we the American people would only buy American products then this would put many American workers back to work. But, stringent guidelines would have to be put into place to make sure that we the people were not being defrauded like we were within the Walton family before.
As most of us knows, Wal-Mart is an international company. I do believe that such a company has stores in lets say China, I believe that Wal-Mart stores in China should first buy goods made in China. This is also what the people of China badly need. Right now most people in America know that places like China make products for the purpose of export to countries like the US. Most of us also know that almost all of these product are basically of very poor quality, so basically we are paying for lousy and or unsafe products when we buy their exports. If the American people would not buy these cheaply made products it would also help the Chinese people. The population of China is about four times that of the US and these people matter just as much as people of other countries and the working poor of China depends on exports at this time. If the export markets dried up to the companies of China they would have to finally turn inward and build products for the people of China, this would be a huge boom to their domestic companies and at the same time the quality of those products made in their country for their people would have to get much better. This would make their people have a much better quality of life both by having a better paying job and they would be able to purchase products that are out of their financial reach at this time.
I guess what I am getting at is I’m trying to show how things could truly get better for the masses here in the US as well as in places like China if we the people would force behemoth companies like Wal-Mart to be held accountable for their actions. Also force our government to hold countries and companies legally accountable when they are found to be frauds and liars.
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But before we embark on our prison scouting, we have something else on the agenda: a visit to the city’s only Walmart store. It feels important, given the note was found in a Walmart, albeit one on the other side of the globe. Perhaps a Chinese Walmart close to where the note supposedly originated can provide clues, or at least context.
The Guilin Walmart is a 10-minute drive from the center of the city, spread across two floors in a shopping mall, on a road lined with scooter repair shops. Walmart is the world’s biggest retailer; it owns 11,700 retail units in 27 countriesaround the world, including Brazil and South Africa, under various banner names. In China, Walmart owns 389 Walmart Supercenters, in addition to 21 Sam’s Clubs and 15 Hypermarkets.
A note on Walmart’s Chinese site reads: “Walmart China firmly believes in local sourcing. We have established partnerships with more than seven thousand suppliers in China. Over 95% of the merchandise in our stores in China is sourced locally.”
The Guilin Walmart sells athletic shorts made in Vietnam, girls’ T-shirts made in Bangladesh, and sports jackets made in Cambodia. But for the most part, the store’s clothing is made in China, some of it just a few hours away. There are England football shirts and women’s purses from Guangdong, World Cup Russia sandals from Fujian, Frozen and Mickey Mouse tees from Shanghai, and baseball jerseys and Peppa Pig sun hats from Jiangxi.
Countries the world over encourage citizens to “buy local,” so why would China be any different? Still, necessarily, what is local to one place — local practice, local perspective — is foreign to all others. To those in the country, “made in China” means items produced by their fellow Chinese that contribute to the robust economy. Elsewhere in the world, particularly in the US, the phrase draws ire, conjuring images of goods mass-produced in factories with questionable conditions by workers who have supplanted their own country’s workforce.
Walmart in the US has tried and tested the homemade idea. In 1985, founder Sam Walton voiced a commitment to “made in America” products, launching a program called “Bring It Home to the USA” to buy more US-made goods. Around that time, according to reporter Bob Ortega’s book In Sam We Trust, Walton estimated 6 percent of his company’s total sales came from imports; a Frontline report found that number may have been closer to 40 percent. Bill Clinton, then the governor of Walmart’s home state of Arkansas, described “Bring It Home to the USA” as an “act of patriotism.” The program failed.
It’s easy to understand why. The “made in America” ideal comes second to finding the cheapest sources of production — this was true in the ’80s, and it’s true now. A study released in 2016 found that three in four Americans say they would like to buy US-made goods but consider those items too costly or difficult to find. When asked if they’d buy an $85 pair of pants made in the US or a $50 pair made in a different country, 67 percent chose the latter.
Today, Walmart outsources the majority of its production around the world. According to a 2011 report in the Atlantic, Chinese suppliers are believed to account for around 70 percent of the company’s merchandise. A 2015 analysis from the Economic Institute, a progressive think tank, found that Walmart’s trade with China may have eliminated 400,000 jobs in the US between 2001 and 2013.
This is something Walmart says it’s trying to change. In its 2014 annual report, the company pledged to spend an additional $250 billion on US-made goods by 2023, saying it believes “we can drive cost savings by sourcing closer to the point of consumption.” Research from Boston Consulting Group projected this could create a million new US jobs.
At the initiative’s 2018 halfway point, though, it’s unclear how many jobs have been created or how much money has actually been spent. Additionally, in 2015, the Federal Trade Commission initiated a probe into Walmart’s mislabeling of foreign goods as “Made in the USA.” Walmart took action by removing inaccurate logos and making its disclosures more transparent, only to come under fire for deceptive “Made in the USA” labels yet again the very next year.
Forced labor is commonly practiced in the Chinese prison system, which the Chinese Communist Party first established countrywide in 1949, modeling it on Soviet gulags. The kind of crimes that land someone in the Chinese penal system range widely, from murder and bribery to saying anything remotely bad about the government. Freedom of speech isn’t a reality for Chinese citizens, who can face decades in prison for publishing articles about human rights online.
Peter E. Müller, a leading specialist at the Laogai Research Foundation, and his team extensively document the human rights abuses inside China’s prison system. This work includes identifying prisons and camps that employ forced labor, tracking the inmate population, and gathering personal testimony from those who have experienced forced labor.
He says prisoners in China, the US, and elsewhere are sometimes paid for their labor. (In the Walmart note, the writer describes forced labor and beatings, as well as low pay for long hours and health care deducted from payment.) The amount depends on the financial situation of the prison; the average pay in American state prisons is 20 cents an hour. Müller says the monthly salary specified in the note (2,000 yuan, or $295) is “unusually high,” but speculates that it may be because the prison “makes good money because of high-quality workers.”
Human rights organizations, such as the Laogai Research Foundation and China Labor Watch, say the biggest problem in stopping the export of products made in prisons is that the supply lines are “almost untraceable.” Supply lines, in general, are very difficult to trace due to the enormous complexity of supplier networks, a lack of communication between actors, and a general dearth of data that can be shared in the first place. The result is a frustratingly opaque global system of production.
Li Qiang, the founder and executive director of China Labor Watch, explains that American companies that manufacture abroad place their orders directly with factories or sourcing companies, and that those factories and companies can transfer the orders to prisons without the company’s knowledge. In fact, some of these relationships are formalized to the point where prisons that use forced labor have a sister factory that coordinates the prison manufacturing.
It’s essentially a front, as sister factories will use a commercial name for outside trade, intentionally mislabeled products that are made in prisons. Prisoners are never physically sent to the sister factories; the main bulk of the production happens on prison grounds. Once nearly complete, items are then sent to the sister factories, where they are prepared and labeled for international delivery. This system isn’t easy for companies to monitor. Suppliers conceal these practices from clients, and supplier checks are not frequent, especially for large corporations like Walmart, which use a large number of suppliers and subcontractors.
Qiang says the issue can feel intractable. “Even if shoppers in the US understand that the items are being made under poor working conditions, there is nothing they can really do,” he says. “Multinational corporations will not invest in improving their supply chain if there are few laws to protect workers whose rights are being violated, and no successful lawsuits against brands, companies, or their factories for violating them.”
On a Tuesday morning in late May, Channing and I sit at a table in our hotel lobby. We browse message boards on Baidu, one of the country’s most popular search engines and social networking sites, to see if the issue of prison labor is discussed on Chinese social media, or if it’s a subject the government censors.
In a matter of seconds, Channing is able to find discussion boards filled with suppliers looking to outsource labor to prisons. The conversations are quite ordinary — there is no coded language, and full addresses and contact numbers are included in postings. We also find dozens of posts from people offering the services of prisons they work with to mass-produce items for overseas companies, including “electronic accessories, bracelets, necklace bead processing, toy assembly, and shirt processing.”
One post in Chinese reads: “Because our processing personnel are from prison, it has the following advantages. The prison personnel are centralized and stable, and they are managed by the prison. There is no need to worry about the flow of people and the shortage of labor. The processing price is low: Since the processing location is in prison, there is no need for manufacturers to provide space and accommodation; and the prison works in the principle of serving the people, so the processing price is guaranteed to be absolutely lower than the market price. If your company needs it, please contact!”
In an effort to verify not only that Yingshan prison exists but also that it’s one of many Chinese factories that use forced labor and contract with manufacturers, Channing and I drive toward the suburbs in the eastern part of Guilin.
Channing asks our driver to drop us at a high school so we can remain undetected. Nearby, I’d marked a spot where I believed the prison to be according to the human rights report I’d found before arriving in China. But theprison isn’t there. In its place is a crossing, though there’s reason to believe the prison is closed — a dilapidated sign pointing left reads: Yingshan.
We walk down the road and find the area under heavy surveillance. Security cameras are hitched onto poles on every corner of the pathway. The farther we walk, the more literal the warnings that we shouldn’t be there. Three different signs hammered into a tree read: “DO NOT APPROACH.”
Yingshan prison, described in a note found in a Walmart handbag thousands of miles away in the US, does exist — and we are standing in front of it.
Though it had been difficult to find, it actually doesn’t seem so hidden after all. It is integrated into the neighborhood, just around the corner from a driving school, near leafy streets and apartment blocks.
The prison doesn’t look like an archetypal prison you’d see in the US. If it weren’t for the two security watchtowers, Yingshan could be mistaken for a modern residential building. Thick bushes cover dark blue metal fences lined with barbed wire. The high walls are painted cream with decorative white lines demarcating each of the building’s five floors. Each window has a neat white frame, with a metal air vent attached.
Several guards in uniform are standing in the parking lot of the building next door. We don’t approach them for fear of being detained. The Chinese government treats both domestic and foreign journalists hostilely. Reporters are often banned from entering the country, and they have also been detained for their work. Our safest bet for gathering information is to speak to people in the area who may have ties to the prison.
Walking down a second pathway that runs alongside Yingshan, the village of Sanjia comes into view. Sanjia is a small village that abuts the prison grounds. In the village, crumbling homes stand alongside gated, modern ones painted gold. Locals say this is because the land is being bought out, and that the village is grappling with redevelopment.
Each person we speak to have a personal connection to the prison. They know people imprisoned, have a family member working inside, or have worked inside themselves. They tell us that guards who work in Yingshan are housed with their families in an apartment complex next to the prison. We realize this is the building with the parking lot filled with uniformed guards.
Zhenzhu, who asked that her surname not be used for fear of retribution from the government, can see the prison from her front door. A jovial woman, she has lived in the village for 14 years, moving to the area right after she was married. As we talk, we hear pigs squealing. Zhenzhu explains that those are her pigs, 100 of them, next door in a slaughterhouse she runs with her husband.
When the building of the prison commenced in 2007, Zhenzhu was three months pregnant, and her husband was employed as a construction worker on the project. By the time their daughter turned 3, the building was complete. Zhenzhu has visited the prison before, to see an inmate; Yingshan allows visits from family members under heavy security. She says its walls are buried so deep into the ground that “even if the prisoners want to break out by digging an underground tunnel, they can’t dig through.”
Zhenzhu recounts much of what her husband told her about his experience at Yingshan. For years following the construction, he would visit for maintenance checks and additional building; trucks were always driving fabric in and out of the prison. The trucks, he told Zhenzhu, were from factories located in the Guangdong province. Guangdong is home to an estimated 60,000 factories, which produce around a third of the world’s shoes and much of its textiles, apparel, and toys.
Everyone we speak to, Zhenzhu included, says they’ve seen labor inside the prison or have been told about it directly by inmates. None was familiar with Walmart goods being produced there, but some could confirm that women’s fashion is manufactured inside.
To those in the village, prison labor is not just common knowledge; it’s also necessary. They consider the prisoners “bad guys” who have committed horrible crimes. In their eyes, the labor is a good thing: It helps rehabilitate inmates and gets them to understand the value of work. But that work can come at a great cost. According to local hearsay and furthered by a published account from a woman who was married to a Yingshan prison guard, inmates have been known to kill themselves because of the poor conditions and forced labor.
Zhenzhu leads us around the edge of the village, to get a side view of the prison. She points to the building we first passed and tells us that’s where the inmates eat and sleep. She then points to a building farther in the distance on the left that looks almost exactly the same. It’s also painted cream, but with slightly larger white window frames; a yard obscured behind the prison wall separates the structures. The second building, she tells us, is for “the work.”
The Walmart note followed a tradition of hidden messages found by shoppers. In 2014, shoppers found labels stitched into several items of clothing in Primark stores across the UK. The labels, written in English, read: “forced to work exhausting hours” and “degrading sweatshop conditions.”
As the notes spread across social media, the fast-fashion company conducted an investigation and found the labels were fake. The company said the items were all made by different suppliers, in different factories, on different continents. They stressed it was impossible that the same labels, especially those written in English, would appear on all the items and that they believed the labels were part of an activist stunt carried out in the UK.
Though no one claimed credit for the labels, activist groups had been waging campaigns to protest Primark’s labor practices in the time leading up to their discovery. War on Want led a 2013 campaign against the company after more than 1,100 people died as a result of the Rana Plaza collapse. Primark, along with J.C. Penney and Joe Fresh, was among the retailers whose products were made in the Bangladeshi complex.
Almost all the messages that have been found in stores have come under public scrutiny, as they’re often suspected of being written and planted by activists.The handwriting, the language, and even the paper used for notes have pointed to activist work.For example, several notes and labels, like the Primark ones, were written in English. Many inmates and factory workers in China, as well as Bangladesh, come from poor backgrounds and are unlikely to have had the chance to learn English in school.
There have been, however, at least two instances in which actual workers have claimed the notes. In 2011, a shopper bought a box of Halloween decorations at a Oregon Kmart. She found a note inside the box, allegedly from a prisoner in China explaining that he had made the item under forced labor conditions.
Two years later, Zhang — a man who asked newsrooms to only use his surname for fear of being arrested and imprisoned again — claimed to be the writer of the note. He said he planted 20 such notes during the two years he spent in prison, with hopes they would reach American stores. His handwriting and modest English language proficiency matched those of the note, but even then, it wasn’t feasible to fully corroborate his story. As the New York Timeswrote, “it was impossible to know for sure whether there were perhaps other letter writers, one of whose messages might have reached Oregon.”
The second instance came in 2014, when a shopper in New York found a note in a Saks shopping bag she received when purchasing a pair of Hunter rain boots two years earlier. The note, written in English, claimed to have been written by a man in a Chinese prison; it also included his email address, photo, and name, which led to the finding of the alleged author, Tohnain Emmanuel Njong. Originally from Cameroon, he said he’d been teaching English in China when he was arrested in May 2011 and wrongly jailed for fraud charges.
In both cases, the final step of verification would be to confirm with the prisons mentioned in the notes that Zhang and Njong served sentences at their facilities and that forced labor occurs there. But since Chinese prisons refuse to provide comment on such stories, there’s little way of definitively confirming the prisoners’ accounts.
In 2017, the validity of hidden notes came into question yet again. Shoppers in Istanbul found tags inside clothing items in a Zara store that read: “I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it.”
It turned out Turkish workers, who produced the clothing for Zara in an Istanbul factory, planted the notes in protest. The factory where they had been employed closed down overnight, leaving them suddenly without jobs or a source of income. The workers wrote notes urging shoppers to pressure Zara into giving them the back pay they were owed. They then went to a Zara store in the center of Istanbul and hid the notes in the pockets of clothing being sold inside.
The Turkish workers didn’t come up with the idea of the notes on their own. The Clean Clothes Campaign and its alliance partner Labour Behind the Label (LBL), an organization that campaigns for garment workers’ rights, helped plan the action.
LBL and other campaign groups have organized “note droppings” like this in retail stores like Zara for many years. The notes describe how poor labor practices are behind the store’s items; LBL gathers information about these practices through its own reports and interviews.
“Dropping notes is an extension of leaving leaflets in stores,” says LBL’s director of policy Dominique Muller. “When we think we’re not getting movement from companies, we turn to confrontational tactics like this.”
LBL doesn’t worry that the notes they plant in stores could overshadow any potentially real notes found in stores. “These notes are just a drop in the ocean. They’re still new” — as an activism tool, that is — “and they will continue to have an impact.”
Finding Yingshan brought some answers about the validity of the note. For one, the prison named in the Walmart note exists. We heard firsthand accounts from locals who said forced labor does occur inside the prison as the note described. What we were told about the work is that the hours are long, the work is done indoors, and the labor involves manufacturing fashion items, which might include bags like the purse Christel bought in Arizona.
After Walmart issued its statement about their being “no way to verify the origin of the letter,” the company launched an internal investigation. It was found that the factory that made the purse didn’t adhere to Walmart’s standards, which stress the need for “labor to be voluntary” and state that “slave, child, underage, forced, bonded, or indentured labor will not be tolerated.” As a result, the company cut ties with the supplier, a decision the company only disclosed after it was contacted for this story. Walmart declined to clarify whether the supplier in question had contracted with Yingshan prison.
In a statement to Vox, a Walmart spokesperson wrote: “Walmart has strict standards for our suppliers, and they must tell us where our products are being made. Through our investigation into this matter, we found the supplier’s factory sent purses to be made at other factories in the region that were not disclosed to us. The supplier failed to follow our standards, so we stopped doing business with them. We take allegations like this seriously, and we are committed to a responsible and transparent supply chain. There are consequences for our suppliers when our standards are not followed.”
One last question did remain unanswered. Was the note written by an actual prisoner, or by an activist with knowledge of the conditions that produced the bag? Müller of the Laogai Research Foundation believes the note is indeed real.
The description and details referenced in the note, he says, mirror much of what he’s heard in interviews with former prisoners. He says the language, the style of writing, and the use of the phrase “horse cow goat pig dog” — a common expression in China that compares the treatment of prisoners to that of animals — add to its authenticity. He believes the writer of the note certainly risked his life to send his message.
Even if the note is real, though, what’s come to light during the reporting of this story is that the Walmart note won’t end forced labor in China. The government is not going to release a public statement condemning human rights abuses inside its prisons because of stories like this one. It doesn’t see forced labor as a human rights abuse; Chinese citizens who don’t support the practices risk arrest if they speak out, and so most won’t.
The pitfall of pinning reform on awareness is expecting a bad thing to end if enough people know about it. Very rarely does mass attention on an issue result in a tangible shift in how things work. If merely sharing information were enough, the countless viral stories about forced labor recounted here would have already resulted in widespread reform.
Still, the incremental change the Walmart note led to — however impossibly small, however seemingly inconsequential — is a step. It has to be.
Additional reporting by Channing Huang.
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