In Britain, readers of the Sunday Times were greeted with a story that would dampen their Christmas spirit. According to the report, six-year-old Florence Widdicombe opened a box of Tesco Christmas cards and found an unexpected message. According to the publication, the little girl discovered a “desperate message” inside the box, which read: “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China, forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify a human rights organization.”
Many faithful Sunday Times readers were horrified. So, too, were many major international news organizations, which reported the story across the globe. Pushed to respond, Tesco released a statement saying it had “suspended production” of cards at a specific Chinese factory and would investigate the allegations.
Meanwhile, Zhejiang Yunguang Printing, the Chinese company supplying the greeting cards to Tesco, responded very strongly to the story, denying any suggestion that their company used forced labor, saying: “We have never been involved in such activities that the media reported… We think someone is smearing us… The only thing I can tell you is that we don’t have labor from Shanghai Qingpu prison… Ask (the prison) what’s going on…”
But some are not buying that response. The Times story added that the card hidden in the box asked whoever received it to “contact Mr. Peter Humphrey…” who was a former British journalist who, according to media reports, spent time in Qingpu prison. When contacted by the media, Humphrey said his sources agree prisoners are “forced to complete mundane packaging tasks… He said one of his contacts said this had been going on for years…”
Chinese officials have fired back, directly accusing Humphrey of making up the whole story. The reporter called this accusation “predictable” before saying he “immediately knew” the story was “absolutely genuine.”
So, all this sets up an international “he said / they said.” On one side is a British reporter with a salacious story that, true or not, embarrasses a Chinese company. And, on the other side, you have both a company and government leadership denying any basis for such reporting.
So, who to believe? That’s a question still left unanswered, but that will not stop people from choosing sides. People reading this story or hearing news reports about it will begin the process of forming an opinion before they even finish interacting with the information. This happens on an emotional, subconscious level, so careful PR messaging is essential.