[Issue 065] Companies Benefitting from Slave Labor


Yesterday we celebrated Labor Day in the US; and exactly two weeks ago prisoners in 17 states began protesting labor conditions, which many refer to as prison slavery. 

If you've seen Ava Duverney's Netflix documentary, 13th, then you already know the basics: while the 13th amendment prohibits slavery, it makes an exception when used as punishment for a crime.

Prison labor generates $1 billion dollars and is profitable business both for our government and the companies that benefit directly and indirectly from prison contracts. Meanwhile, prisoners are only paid on average between $0.14 and $1.41 per hour—if they earn anything at all. Inmates in government run facilities in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas are paid nothing at all. 


In doing some research, I had a hard time correctly identifying which companies listed in articles are currently benefiting or have since ended any ties with prison labor. (I'm going to keep doing research, but let me know if you come across any helpful resources.)

What I found, however, is insightful enough.


Here is a very inexhaustive list of companies that have benefitted in the past or continue to benefit from prison labor: Microsoft, McDonalds, Walmart, JC Penney, Motorola, Compaq, Honeywell, Boeing, Revlon, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Chevron, BP, Victoria’s Secret, Eddie Bauer, American Airlines, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon. 

Some specific examples how companies benefit:

  • Inmates sew uniforms for McDonald's.

  • AT&T has used inmates in its call centers.

  • BP sent inmates to clean up its oil spill in the Gulf coast.

  • In the 90s, Victoria Secret contracted with a company that used prison labor to sew some of its garments.

  • Up until 2016, Whole Foods sourced fish through a third party that used prison labor.


There are, of course, multiple sides to this argument about prison labor, with some who say that there is a rehabilitative benefit to prisoners working. I wouldn't dispute that.

However, let's be clear. Companies operate within a system that incentivizes profits over people. And by unjustly and inhumanely keeping labor costs low, prison labor therefore creates significant incentives to keep prisons full. (Again, watch 13th if you want more education on this topic.)

So any company that truly cares about rehabilitation should immediately throw their weight behind supporting the demands of the prisoners.

I'll leave you with this excerpt from a Teen Vogue column on the issue that you should definitely go read:

Ending prison slavery and supporting incarcerated workers is absolutely a labor issue, and every union and labor activist in the nation should be standing up to support their efforts. The companies who profit off of this modern day slavery have blood on their hands, just like history’s craven factory owners and coal bosses who oversaw the deaths and degradation of previous generations. We need to equate monetarily supporting companies that use prison labor with crossing the picket line, and to scabbing for enslavement.

The fact that there are human beings housed in cages who are forced to work for slave wages is completely unacceptable by any metric, and fixing (if not completely abolishing) this wretched system should be a priority for those who consider themselves part of the labor movement, or on the right side of history. An injury to one is an injury to all, and our fellow workers on the inside are bleeding out.


I couldn't have said it better...



Rights Groups to Google: No Censored Search in China. Human rights groups have been calling on Google to not offer a censored internet search in China. In a joint letter, rights groups wrote that Google providing the Chinese government with a censored search engine would be a violation to “the rights of freedom of expression and privacy” and that Google would be “participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China.” // YAHOO

Here’s how GDPR Is Already Changing Web Design. The use of cookies across news sites is down 22% across the EU, and the U.K experienced a drop of 45% in May of this year, after the GDPR took effect. Furthermore, researchers have cited a “housecleaning” effect amongst web designs post GDPR as the changes in regulations gave companies an opportunity to go through their code and update it for modern times. // FAST COMPANY

This Company Is Making Footwear Out of Wool, Sugar, and Trees. Allbirds makes shoes that are sourced ethically and made sustainably from merino wool, tree fiber, and sugar. The shoe manufacturing industry has a high carbon footprint, and using renewable resources like wool to make them can help lessen the footprint. // TRIPLE PUNDIT

How Companies Make It Harder for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Employees to Achieve Work-Life Balance. A recent study with lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers across the U.S. found that LGB families experience similar work-life balance problems as heterosexual families, however they also experience additional problems related to their orientation and identity—from debating whether to collect benefits in fear of revealing their orientation to feeling conflicted about whether or not to take their partners with them to work related events. // HBR


Inside Facebook’s plan to protect the U.S. midterm elections. Facebook's plan boils down to three main efforts: (1) it wants to find and delete “fake” or “inauthentic” accounts, (2) it wants to find and diminish the spread of so-called fake news, and (3) it wants to make it harder for outsiders to buy ads that promote candidates or important election issues. // RECODE

Starbucks Will Let Employees Split Their Time At A Nonprofit. Starbucks and Points of Light, a nonprofit volunteering group, have begun testing a program that will allow certain employees the ability to split their work time working at a local nonprofit. More than 200 employees applied, and the employees are paid from a grant by the Starbucks Foundation. // MONEY

Is Clothing Rental The Secret to Making Fashion Sustainable? Clothing waste is a huge problem. The average American throws away an estimated 81lbs of used clothing a year, and the UK threw away 235 million articles of clothing in 2017. Renting clothing has been identified as a way to slow consumption and waste production. If consumers can be open to change and the industry provides it, shifting to a more rental-based clothing system would reduce waste and extend the lifespan of garments, as well as help the industry become more sustainable. // INDEPENDENT


"The companies who profit off of this modern day slavery have blood on their hands, just like history’s craven factory owners and coal bosses who oversaw the deaths and degradation of previous generations."

Kim Kelly, in this Teen Vogue column

Nikita T. Mitchell