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What Chinese law says about prison labour practices

What Chinese law says about prison labour practices

Local prison policemen attend a regular skill examination in Hefei, China's Anhui province Nov 11, 2006. (Photo: REUTERS/Jianan Yu)

BEIJING: China's prison labour practices are in the spotlight after a six-year-old in Britain found a Christmas card saying it had been packed by foreign prisoners who were victims of forced labour in a Shanghai jail.

China denied the allegations, saying the jail does not have an issue of foreign prisoners being forced to work. The manager of the printing factory where the card was made said the allegations were "completely fabricated."

Here's what Chinese law says about prison labour practices:


China had 1.7 million people in 680 prisons as of 2018, said the director of prison administration under the Ministry of Justice, in an interview with the official Xinhua news agency in January last year.

Labour is a part of the punishment process, according to the law.

"Prisons will combine punishment and reform for criminals, with the principle of combining education and labour, to change criminals into law-abiding citizens," according to the prison law. 

Safeguards are in place, it says.

According to the same law, prisoners usually work eight hours a day in manufacturing work. If they must work beyond eight hours, they have to report to the head of the prison and receive his or her permission.

Sleeping time must not be less than eight hours, the same law says.

In Shanghai, workers on average can receive up to 600 yuan (US$85.57) a month for their work, according to the law.

It is unclear which companies the prisoners supply.

A report from state-backed Beijing News found that a Liaoning prison in China's northeast controlled businesses in near 20 different industries from cars to construction.


The jail where the card is alleged to have come from is in Shanghai where prisoners with sentences of longer than seven years are kept.

It also holds a number of male foreign prisoners from over 40 countries, according to its website.

The prison "has also become a window to show China's civilised rule of law, the prison's website says.


British supermarket chain Tesco suspended its relationship on Sunday with a Chinese supplier after news of the card's message alleging forced labour practices broke.

Australian clothing retailer Cotton On Group said on Tuesday it was investigating the same supplier.

In 2014, Associated British Foods' fast-fashion chain Primark was criticised after a customer found a note inside a pair of trousers she bought that allegedly came from a Chinese prisoner who claimed to have been overworked.

In 2017, in a similar case, a customer found a handwritten note inside a Christmas card bought from Sainsbury supermarket group that apparently came from a Chinese prisoner.

It is unclear how many companies are supplied by Chinese forced prison labour.

Another potential area of contention is the detention camps China has been running in Xinjiang province.

The Chinese government says they are vocational training centres. Using that term, the region has been wooing domestic companies to train and employ detainees, according to Adrian Zenz, an independent German researcher, who published his findings in Foreign Policy magazine. 

Source: Reuters/ec


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