News / Asia

Detained American Provides Glimpse Into Chinese Forced Labor Practices

Detained American Provides Glimpse Into Chinese Forced Labor Practicesi
Yang Chen
April 24, 2014 9:15 PM
An American Fulbright Scholar who was arrested in China for stealing spent eight months in a detention center assembling Christmas lights. In this report by Yang Chen and narrated by VOA's Colin Lovett, the man's story offers a glimpse into forced labor in China.
Yang Chen
An American who was arrested in China for stealing spent eight months assembling Christmas lights in a detention center.

Stuart Foster lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Life there is quiet and comfortable.

It’s hard to imagine that just months ago, he was working six days a week, more than eight hours a day, assembling Christmas lights in the Baiyun Detention Center in Guangzhou, China.

“At about 9:30 or 10 [in the morning], it varied, they would bring in work in big bags, industrial plastics bags," said Foster. "And it would be in the outer cells, the bosses would count and see how much it was, and then call for the inmates on the inside to come get their portions.”

He said the guards told him the lights are exported to the U.S. and other Western countries.

Foster was detained for stealing money from a fellow American teacher at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies.  

Foster admitted the theft and returned the money. After eight months in detention, however, he was convicted and sentenced to time served. He was deported from China last December.

Foster said he was forced to work even though China claims to be closing labor camps. “Now when you look at the news, there will be reports, 'well, they are closing the reeducation through labor' or 'they are turning many of these into drug rehabilitation centers.' But where I was, if you don’t work, you were beaten. If you don’t work, they take your food. If you don’t work, you will not have your case heard. It was at every turn physical punishment if you didn’t work. If that’s not forced labor, what is?"  

His defense lawyer, Jade Wei, told VOA via Skype that the labor is part of China's legal process. “According to Chinese criminal law, physical labor is part of the efforts to rehabilitate people. As far as I know in American prisons, inmates have to work, too.”

Foster said businesses who are making millions of dollars, though, are abusing the rights of inmates. He said he also thinks American companies who import these products should be held accountable.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.

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Comment Sorting
by: Stuart Foster from: Spartanburg USA
May 10, 2014 8:10 PM
All comments are welcome and appreciated! The original VOA story in Chinese gives much more detail about the "crime" and Forced Labor Camp conditions. For more information view the website Also a National Public Radio (NPR) in-depth segment on this saga will be aired in the near future! Finally my memoirs "White Cloud Detention" will be published and released hopefully in time for Christmas while people enjoy the Christmas lights made by prisoners who are beaten and having food withheld daily so people can celebrate "Peace on Earth and Good Will Towards man!" All the best, Stuart

by: Wangchuk from: NYC
May 05, 2014 5:08 PM
While not all Chinese-made products are built w/ forced labor, many of the Chinese products sold in the USA are built w/ forced labor. Therefore, we should not buy Made in China b/c we are contributing to an illegal system of forced labor. Even those products made outside prisons are built by workers who work/live in abysmal conditions, work 80 hrs per week and get no vacation or sick leave & don't have the right to form independent labor unions. Workers in Communist China have less rights than workers in capitalist nations like USA & Europe.

by: mikee from: UK
April 25, 2014 10:56 AM
what does the thief expect , a sunshine all expenses paid holiday camp? we all have to work in this life to survive
In Response

by: Wangchuk from: NY
May 05, 2014 5:02 PM
You're missing the point of the story. It exposes forced prison labor to make consumer goods made in China & sold in the West. That means many Xmas ornaments, toys & other things we buy that are Made in China are actually made w/ forced labor. Since there is no due process of law or rule of law in China, there is no way to know whether the prisoners are actually guilty or imprisoned for political views or tortured into confessions. Prisoners don't get a choice, they either work or starve or are beaten. Even prisoners have rights under int'l law. If you were illegally detained in China or in the UK, I think you would want your rights protected.

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