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Tesco is to investigate allegations of prison labour in its supply chain after reports that a six-year girl in London found a message from prisoners inside charity Christmas cards.

It was reported by The Sunday Times that cards supplied by a Chinese printing firm contained a message saying: “We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation.”

Tesco said it was “shocked by the allegations” and had immediately suspended the factory where the cards are produced, launched an investigation and withdrawn the cards from sale.

A statement from Tesco said: “We abhor the use of prison labour and would never allow it in our supply chain.

“We have a comprehensive auditing system in place and this supplier was independently audited as recently as last month and no evidence was found to suggest they had broken our rule banning the use of prison labour.

“If a supplier breaches these rules, we will immediately and permanently de-list them.”