The Home Office has been asked to investigate claims that a pair of trousers bought in the Belfast branch of Primark were made using slave labour in a Chinese prison.
SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie is calling for an investigation after a Co Fermanagh woman discovered a cry-for-help letter in the pocket of the garment alleging human rights abuses.
This comes after Belcoo mother-of-two Karen Wisinska bought a pair of three quarter length camouflage trousers from Primark, for around £10, in June 2011 but only discovered the prison identity card and plea for help attached to it last week when she was clearing her wardrobe out.
“SOS! SOS! SOS!,” the note read.
“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!”
Mrs Wisinska told this newspaper she could have cried when the note was translated into English for her.
Primark has faced a barrage of criticism in the past for using sweatshops in Asia that employ what would be considered slave labour in the West to make cheap clothing for the high street.
The retailer is now investigating Mrs Wisinska’s discovery, described by Amnesty International in Northern Ireland as a “horrific tale”.
SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said: “If proved genuine, this shocking letter tells us disturbing details about the origin of clothes many people purchase from the high street.
“The allegations detailing the working conditions are appalling and they should give us all cause to think twice the next time we go shopping.
“The British government has a clear responsibility to investigate such claims.”
Meanwhile, South Armagh man, Aidan McQuade, the director of Anti Slavery International told the Belfast Telegraph a structural problem with the manufacturing industry is that it is “out of sight and out of mind” and that international law must be strengthened to protect vulnerable workers.
“This is a shocking but unsurprising story,” he said.
“I haven’t heard of anything like this happening before but it is a highly credible story.
“When you know the nature of factories, particularly where our garments are manufactured, they are not the model of ideal workplaces or places people from this part of the world would want to work in.
“The garment sector, in particular across Asia, has high levels of exploitation, dangerous and unhealthy work conditions and often forced labour and slavery.
“My instinct is to believe the story is true. It is an expression of that individuals desperation at being caught up in that system.”