The idea of providing inmates with training and jobs, preparing them to succeed when they are released into the general public may seem like the perfect scenario, but don’t allow the carefully chosen words to fool you. Programs that are painted to be ‘for the benefit of the inmates’ are exactly the opposite.

The working conditions leave much to be desired, even unsafe to be working in, and the inmates that are ‘hired’ are paid rates so low that some companies have been encouraged to bring their business back to the United States, rather than capitalizing on the cheap labor in third-world countries, as contractors working with our prison systems boast they can provide the same services even cheaper. If something appears too good to be true, it often is!

In an exposé written for the website Think Progress, Carimah Townes explains that “people behind bars are forced to do grueling, back-breaking, and dangerous work for nickels and dimes, while corporations rack up billions of dollars in profit off the cheap labor.” In fact, many of the ‘employed’ inmates will only make approximately $20-30 EACH MONTH! That’s less than a dollar each day to work in conditions that would be deemed ‘unfit’ for the average American. The prison labor market is nothing short of modern-day slavery. It is on us to stand up, speak out for those that are in positions where they can’t currently advocate for themselves, and to be educated on which companies we are supporting with our hard-earned money.


Let your money do the talking – Avoid supporting these 9 companies:

#1 – Starbucks

The coffee giant has a cult-like following, but do those who spend their hard-earned money on the company’s drinks and products realize what may be happening behind the scenes with those purchases? In order to maximize profits the company turns to prison labor to package up their various goods. Looking at the price that the company charges you would assume that they would be able to pay a fair wage for this service, right? Sources report that the inmates, including those in the British prison system, are getting less than $15 USD each week for their hard work.

#2 – Wal-Mart

While those in power at Wal-Mart are quick to stand up and declare that the company doesn’t believe in the practice of forced labor, including prison labor, you may not be getting the whole story. Sure, the company itself doesn’t employ prison labor, but the same can’t be said for some of its big suppliers. Over the years horror stories have emerged about Martori Farms, one major supplier of products that the company sells. Not only does the company use prison labor, putting the inmates through intense labor and questionable conditions for little to no money, but there have also been stories of deaths related to the lack of regard for the inmates’ well-being.

#3 – BP

Best known for the environmental devastation that the company created when several million barrels of oil were spilled in the Gulf Coast, most Americans don’t realize that the cleanup of that spill was also incredibly controversial. In order to keep the costs of the cleanup down, trying to minimize the hit that the company took throughout this incident, they ‘hired’ a workforce of prison inmates. Even more controversial is the fact that there were plenty of displaced residents whose homes along the coast were impacted by the spill and were desperate for work, but the company chose, instead, to save a bunch and hire the inmates instead of the very people they had put out.

#4 – Microsoft

The tech-giant is so well known in today’s society that you would have a hard time finding someone that didn’t recognize their name. However, their fame and fortune apparently weren’t enough for the company to resist the temptation of cheap labor. Working with subcontractor Export, inmates were ‘hired’ to shrink-wrap products, such as software, packaging them for sale. While one could argue that the company is already seeing a sizable profit, the use of prison labor further increases the amount of money going into the pockets of those in charge.

#5 – Whole Foods

Whole Foods takes advantage of the labor ‘available’ to them in the prison system, purchasing both cheese and fish that is produced by Colorado prison inmates at an incredibly low rate, and then increasing the price drastically during the sale. For example, inmates receive a rate of approximately .74 cents per day to raise tilapia, which is then sold for $11.99 a pound.  The company states that they are engaged in this deal as part of their ‘mission to support communities,’ pointing to the fact that the inmates do receive compensation as well as job skills to help them upon their release.

#6 – Victoria’s Secret

It feels almost like something out of ‘Orange is the New Black,’ with the inmates all crammed into tight working spaces, sewing women’s undergarments. Unfortunately, that storyline isn’t reserved just for Netflix. Inmates are hired but subcontractors to make both lingerie and leisurewear which the company then sells at high prices and pockets an incredible profit. Furthermore, in 1997 two men were placed in solitary confinement for reporting to journalists that one such subcontractor was paying them to remove labels stating ‘Made in Honduras’ and replace them with labels that read ‘Made in the USA.’ It makes you second-guess the items you’re purchasing to ‘support American business!’

#7 – AT&T

In the past the company has been incredibly vocal about their stance against prison labor, but apparently that only applies when they aren’t benefiting from it financially. Faced with a challenging time financially in 1993 the company attempted to get their budget into check by laying off thousands of their telephone operators, all union members. Upsetting, but part of business, right? Sure, until they went on to hire inmates as call center workers for an unsettling $2 per day! These prisoners are responsible for calling businesses, identifying themselves as AT&T representatives, and trying to sell the company’s products and services.

#8 – McDonalds

Regularly coming up in controversial discussions from the quality of their food to the way that they treat their employees in the restaurants, McDonalds is once again coming under fire. Best known for serving ‘food’ that is nutritionally questionable, highly processed and obtained through unethical practices, this is another notch on their belt. Many of the non-food items seen in the restaurant are acquired cheaply through the use of prison labor including the containers your food is packaged in, cutlery and even the uniforms the employees wear.

#9 – J.C. Penny

Similar to the situation mentioned above involving Wal-Mart, J.C. Penny may not directly use prison labor, however it has been found that one of their big suppliers relies on inmates to manufacture their products. If you are in J.C. Penny trying on their wide assortment of jeans you may want to think twice. Jeans are one of the main items to come out of the Tennessee prison system, allowing companies to manufacture the products at a ridiculously cheap rate, and then make a large profit with inflation leading into the sale. Don’t be fooled!


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