Update: Primark concluded that the two hand-stitched labels (“Forced to work exhausting hours” and “‘Degrading’ working conditions”) were “more likely than not, a hoax carried out in the U.K.," a spokesperson told British Vogue, noting the “labels are clearly from the same source. It is almost impossible to imagine circumstances in which such similar labels could have been sewn onto the garments at the factory where they were made, given that they were made by different suppliers, in different factories, on different continents.” The company is still looking into the S.O.S. note.
Earlier in the week, Rebecca Gallagher of Gowerton, Wales, came forward with a hand-stitched label reading “forced to work exhausting hours” she had found sewn inside of a $17 dress she purchased from U.K.-based retailer Primark. Now, Amnesty International has released a grisly note a Northern Ireland shopper allegedly found in a pair of Primark trousers.
“SOS! SOS! SOS!” the message starts. “We are prisoners in the Xiang Nan Prison of the Hubei Province in China. Our job inside the prison is to produce fashion clothes for export. We work 15 hours per day and the food we eat wouldn't even be given to dogs or pigs. We work as hard as oxen in the field. We call on the international community to condemn the Chinese government for the violation of our human rights!” Karen Wisínska said she was shocked to remove the letter, folded over a prison I.D. card, from her pants pocket. She bought the item from the store’s Belfast location in June 2011, but didn’t discover the plea until recently pulling the unworn garment from her closet.
Primark’s response to Wisínska echoed its commentary regarding Gallagher’s dress. “These three-quarter crop trousers were last ordered by Primark in early 2009 and were last sold in Northern Ireland in October 2009,” a rep. told The Guardian. “We find it very strange that this has come to light so recently, given that the trousers were on sale four years ago.” The company plans to obtain the pants from Wisínska, so it can look into the matter. “Nine inspections of the supplier have been carried out by Primark’s ethical standards team since 2009,” the rep. continued. “To be clear, no prison or other forced labour of any kind was found during these inspections.”
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland program director of Amnesty International, called it “a horrific tale… It’s very difficult to know whether it’s genuine, but the fear has to be that this is just the tip of the iceberg” — and it might be. The South Wales Evening Post (which first wrote of the “forced to work exhausting hours” label) was contacted by a Primark customer who reportedly noticed a hand-stitched “Degrading sweatshop conditions” ticket in her polka-dot top. Fact or fiction, these can’t be the kind of fashion statements Primark has in mind.