After a year in storage, Portland resident Julie Keith unpacked a box of Halloween decorations she bought at Kmart only to find what she claims is an authentic letter penned by a Chinese labor camp prisoner.
"I fully believe it is real," she told Fox News, noting that the letter was found inside Styrofoam headstones that were sealed together.
In the letter, a person alleging to be a prisoner at the Masanjia labor camp in northeast China recounts the harsh conditions detainees are forced to endure.
"People who work here have to work 15 hours a day without Saturday, Sunday break and any holidays. Otherwise they will suffer torturement beat and rude remark. Nearly no payment (10 yuan/1 month)," the author writes, adding that citizens get sent to Masanjia "without court sentence" and spend an average of 1 to 3 years at the camp.
A TV channel affiliated with the persecuted Falun Gong movement — mentioned in the letter as being prevalent at Masanjia — says it reviewed the note and corroborated some of the claims with former detainees.
However, China Director for Human Rights Watch Sophie Richardson told The Oregonian that while conditions mentioned in the letter line up with the group's knowledge of Chinese labor camps, "we're in no position to confirm the veracity or origin of this."
The Homeland Security Investigations department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has launched an inquiry into the letter and its claims, according to public affairs officer Andrew Munoz.
Huffington Post notes that it is against US law to import products made using either convict or forced labor. Kmart operator Sears Holdings Corporation released a statement saying the use of forced labor by its vendors and factories violates the company's "Program Requirements" and "may result in a loss of business or factory termination."
Meanwhile, Keith says she is done with Chinese-made goods.
"If I really don't need it, I won't buy it if it's made in China," she is quoted as saying. "This has really made me more aware. I hope it would make a difference."