Identifying Businesses That Profit From Prison Labor
Many readers have asked how a corporation can be identified as participating in the use of inmate labor. Actually there are three “categories” of those involved in prison labor and prison industry operations:
- corporations, businesses and companies that use direct inmate labor for manufacturing and service jobs,
- corporations, businesses and companies that contract with other companies to purchase products or services made by inmate labor (such as McDonalds), and,
- individuals, corporations, organizations and investment companies that support the use of prison labor or enable prison industry operations by contributing financial support to those directly involved in using inmates for labor or invest in or support private prison corporations.
To demonstrate how difficult involvement in prison industries and the use of inmate labor is to identify, we’ll begin with an investment firm involved in many of our 401(k) and retirement accounts.
Fidelity Investments (Fidelity). This “financial investment” corporation is involved in holding the retirement and 401(k) accounts of millions of Americans. Many of the largest companies in our country offer Fidelity Investments as the sole source of retirement investing for their employees.
Fidelity was previously identified as a funder of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in an earlir Insourcing blog. ALEC is deeply invested in supporting Corrections Corporation of American (CCA) and Geo Group (Geo) – that are both corporate members of ALEC. ALEC has willingly accepted responsibility for enactment of laws authorizing and increasing the use of inmates in manufacturing of products as well as the housing of those inmates by private corporations such as CCA and Geo.
Unfortunately if your retirement savings, 401(K) or other investments are held by Fidelity, chances are some of your money is invested by Fidelity in either the use of prison labor or in other operations related to the prison industrial complex (PIC).
I purposely mentioned McDonald’s in the intro because though they are not “directly” using inmate labor in their food service operations, they are dependent upon the use of inmate labor to reduce costs associated with those operations. The way they do this is by contracting to purchase their uniforms and some of the plastic utensils provided to customers from a company using inmate labor to make those uniforms and utensils. The uniforms are made by Oregon Inmates. Wendy’s has also been identified as relying upon prison labor to reduce their cost of operations – and they fund ALEC.
Two other U.S. companies relying upon prison labor for products sold in their stores are K-Mart and J.C. Penny. Both sell Jeans made by inmates in Tennessee prisons. The same prison in Tennessee provides labor for Eddie Bauer’s wooden rocking horses. There are other products we would not associate with prison made products: dentures, partials, eye glasses, processed foods such as beef, chicken and pork patties sold to and served in our schools, grocery stores and hospitals. I don’t know about you but putting dentures made in prison in my mouth just somehow causes me concern…just as buying a box of breaded chicken patties and fixing them for my family does.
What about services such as Insurance? Banking? Utilities – gas, oil, electricity? Prescription drugs? Are all of these services or commodities tied to prison labor and the PIC?Unfortunately, yes. Many insurance companies are tied to ALEC…as are corporations involving utilities provided to you in your city or town. To name jut a few brand names you’ll recognize that are invested in prison labor or PIC through ALEC are:
BANKS: American General Financial Group, American Express Company, Bank of America, Community Financial Services Corporation, Credit Card Coalition, Credit Union National Association, Inc., Fidelity Inestments, Harris Trust & Savings Bank, Household International, LaSalle National Bank, J.P. Morgan & Company, Non-Bank Funds Transmitters Group
ENERGY PRODUCERS/OIL: American Petroleum Institute, Amoco Corporation, ARCO, BP America, Inc., Caltex Petroleum, Chevron Corporation, ExxonMobil Corporation, Mobil Oil Corporation, Phillips Petroleum Company.
ENERGY PRODUCERS/UTILITIES: American Electric Power Association, American Gas Association, Center for Energy and Economic Development, Commonwealth Edison Company, Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., Edison Electric Institute, Independent Power Producers of New York, Koch Industries, Inc., Mid-American Energy Company, Natural Gas Supply Association, PG&E Corporation/PG&E National Energy Group, U.S. Generating Company.
INSURANCE: Alliance of American Insurers, Allstate Insurance Company, American Council of Life Insurance, American Insurance Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Corporation, Coalition for Asbestos Justice, (This organization was formed in October 2000 to explore new judicial approaches to asbestos litigation.” Its members include ACE-USA, Chubb & Son, CNA service mark companies, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., Kemper Insurance Companies, Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, and St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company. Counsel to the coalition is Victor E. Schwartz of the law firm of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C., a longtime ALEC ally.)
Fortis Health, GEICO, Golden Rule Insurance Company, Guarantee Trust Life Insurance, MEGA Life and Health Insurance Company, National Association of Independent Insurers, Nationwide Insurance/National Financial, State Farm Insurance Companies, Wausau Insurance Companies, Zurich Insurance.
PHARMACEUTICALS: Abbott Laboratories, Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Bayer Corporation, Eli Lilly & Company, GlaxoSmithKline, Glaxo Wellcome, Inc., Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc., Merck & Company, Inc., Pfizer, Inc., Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of
America (PhRMA), Pharmacia Corporation, Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Inc., Schering-Plough Corporation, Smith, Kline & French, WYETH, a division of American Home Products Corporation.
MANUFACTURING:American Plastics Council, Archer Daniels Midland Corporation, AutoZone, Inc. (aftermarket automotive parts), Cargill, Inc., Caterpillar, Inc., Chlorine Chemistry Council, Deere & Company, Fruit of the Loom, Grocery Manufacturers of America, Inland Steel Industries, Inc., International Game Technology, International Paper, Johnson & Johnson, Keystone Automotive Industries, Motorola, Inc., Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee Corporation.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS: AT&T, Ameritech, BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., GTE Corporation, MCI, National Cable and Telecommunications Association, SBC Communications, Inc., Sprint, UST Public Affairs, Inc., Verizon Communications, Inc.
TRANSPORTATION: Air Transport Association of America, American Trucking Association, The Boeing Company, United Airlines, United Parcel Service (UPS).
OTHER U.S. COMPANIES: Amway Corporation, Cabot Sedgewick, Cendant Corporation, Corrections Corporation of America, Dresser Industries, Federated Department Stores, International Gold Corporation, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Microsoft Corporation, Newmont Mining Corporation, Quaker Oats, Sears, Roebuck & Company, Service Corporation International, Taxpayers Network, Inc., Turner Construction, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
ORGANIZATIONS/ASSOCIATIONS: Adolph Coors Foundation, Ameritech Foundation, Bell & Howell Foundation, Carthage Foundation, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, ELW Foundation, Grocery Manufacturers of America, Heartland Institute of Chicago, The Heritage Foundation, Iowans for Tax Relief, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, National Pork Producers Association, National Rifle Association, Olin Foundation, Roe Foundation, Scaiffe Foundation, Shell Oil Company Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, Steel Recycling Institute, Tax Education Support Organization, Texas Educational Foundation, UPS Foundation.
As the foregoing illustrates, many U.S. companies and corporations not only fund ALEC’s activities regarding prison labor and PIC, they have foundations that also contribute handsomely to ALEC. Many are represented upon ALEC”s Private Enterprise Board.
Commodities, services and various products sold to U.S. consumers provide profits to these companies/corporations that are used to further the goals of ALEC. They sell us our vehicles, Chrysler, Ford, GM…sell us the fuel to power those vehicles, insurance to cover our cars and trucks. Some of our homes are mortgaged through banks and mortgage companies affiliated with ALEC. Our homes are insured by carriers supporting the use of inmate labor. Our phones are provided by those who are also involved and our medications also fund these same ALEC activities. Even the fast food places we depend upon are part of the overall PIC operation – McDonalds and Wendy’s.
Reservations we make for American Airlines and the likes of AVIS rent-a-car are taken by inmates. More and more call centers are coming on line every day manned by inmates in both state and federal prison operations. Each position taken by an inmate, used to belong to private sector workers who are now unemployed.
Another industry I’ve briefly touched upon needs to be discussed here. That is the agriculture industry. One side effect of immigration laws being enacted in the Western states is the reduction of migrant workers in those states that have passed tougher immigration policies. Not one to miss such an opportunity, prison industries are vying to fill the voids created by these laws.
Colorado has been one of those states hardest hit because of new laws similar to that of SB 1070. In an effort of providing labor to the farmers in that state, the legislature has partnered with the state DOC to implement a new program allowing for the use of inmates on private farms.
“To meet the needs of the capitalist farmers, the state legislature has partnered with the Colorado Department of Corrections to launch a pilot program this month that will contract with more than a dozen large farms to provide prisoners who will work in the fields. More than 100 prisoners will go to farms near Pueblo, Colo., to start the program in the coming weeks.
Prisoners will earn a miserable 60 cents a day. The prisoners will be watched by prison guards, who will be paid handsomely by the farmers. The practice is a modern form of slavery.
The corporate farm owners and capitalist politicians are defending the program. They claim that business needs to be “protected” for the sake of capitalist production in the agricultural sector.“
There were many indicators that this was on the horizon over three years ago, when articlesbegan to appear about several states switching from migrant farm workers to inmates:
“As states increasingly crack down on hiring undocumented workers, western farmers are looking at inmates to harvest their fields. Colorado started sending female inmates to harvest onions, corn, and melons this summer. Iowa is considering a similar program. In Arizona, inmates have been working for private agriculture businesses for almost 20 years. But with legislation signed this summer that would fine employers for knowingly hiring undocumented workers, more farmers are turning to the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) for help.“
It isn’t surprising that agricultural and farming needs would be pointed in this direction by state legislators…where ALEC’s efforts of eliminating “illegal” aliens from agribusiness work coincided with their SB 1070 and earlier state legislative efforts. They realized the impact the laws would have upon immigrant workers and that a labor force would be necessary to take the place of immigrants picked up or scared off by laws like SB 1070. CCA, Geo and state prison industry operators were informed of the expected future labor needs of U.S. farmers and began to gear up in 2007 when ALEC successfully proposed and was able to enact one of the first restrictive immigration laws in Colorado. I believe ALEC projected the impact on farming, predicted the labor need and advised prison industries to be prepared to put inmates out in agriculture work on short notice. As soon as the Colorado law went into effect, prison industries had inmates picked, vetted and with the proper custody level ready to step into the shoes of the missing migrant workers.
All in all a very effective business plan put into place by ALEC and their members – eliminate an entire industry workforce and replace it with a workforce supplied by their members at a wage scale of less than $1.00 per hour. At the same time salaries of the prison staff guarding the workers is paid for by the farmers. Talk about a win-win-win business plan.
Prison labor had been used in Arizona for more than two decades prior to SB 1070. However the enactment of that law made the need for inmate labor to treble – along with profits from that labor.
Other occupations are being impacted by privatization of prison related healthcare. Many doctors are now choosing to work in prison rather than private practice. Obviously this switch lowers the number of doctors available in the private sector. One reason for this change in direction by physicians is retirement benefits and free malpractice insurance offered by prison healthcare corporations, such as PHS.
If more information is needed to clarify the financial impact of continuing incarceration upon us as a society take a brief look at Washington State’s latest efforts to address the state deficit. The below cuts are necessary to reduce the budget by $600 million. A substantial need for such reductions was created because of the state’s continued reliance upon incarcerating more and more citizens, reducing private sector jobs through the use of prison labor by large WA. corporations such as Boeing and Microsoft.
“Among the cuts approved by legislators: nearly $50 million from the Department of Corrections, including the closure of a prison facility; $50 million from K-12 education, including funding intended to keep class sizes small; $51 million from higher education, including at several of the state’s flagship universities; nearly $30 million from a state-subsidized health insurance program for the poor; and the elimination of non-emergency dental care for poor adults.“
What a trade off, huh? More cuts to education and social programs that benefit the poor while they pay out millions to prison industries and private prison operators – and give tax breaks to Boeing and Microsoft. Washington citizens are getting the shaft – especially their students and the poorest among them.
While Washington state is making terrible cuts to the budget, elsewhere prison workers and their supporters are successfully keeping unnecessary prisons open to keep prison staffers from losing their employment. An action that keeps taxpayers funding their salaries – needlessly.
“ETOWAH COUNTY, Alabama — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have agreed Thursday to delay removal of more than 300 inmates from Etowah County’s detention center until at least the spring, the Gadsden Times reports.
ICE officials had notified the county Saturday that they would be removing the inmates from the Etowah County jail, which is the only facility in Alabama with a contract to house ICE inmates.
On Thursday, after intercession by the county’s congressional delegation, ICE agreed to keep inmates at the facility and use Etowah County’s prisoner transportation services until March 31, 2011, according to the Gadsden Times, which cites a news release from Sheriff Todd Entrekin.
The decision stops what would have been a substantial economic loss for the jail and could have resulted in the loss of some 49 jobs.”
While this fight to keep jobs and inmates in AL. is fought, another fight results in the loss of a successful privately operated reentry program for ex-offenders in Virginia. The state has decided to “re-vamp” its reentry efforts and closed this and 12 other successful programs. Even in instances where volunteers and organizers step-up to address recidivism, the statesteps-in and thwarts their efforts. It’s almost like there are efforts going on at the state levels to keep incarceration and recidivism rates up.
Our country is being turned into a nation of prisoners and those who pay for their incarceration costs – period. Everything else is being cut to keep the PIC in place and profitable. Medicare and Social Security are next in line in the next U.S. Congress. Don’t you find it odd that of all the rhetoric about our failing economy, the cuts to social and community programs, unemployment and unemployment compensation arguments – none of our lawmakers are openly voicing calls for any reduction in imprisonment? I mean there have been hundreds of articles identifying incarceration costs as being responsible for necessary cuts in funding for education and other necessary programs…but no one wants to go on the record as supporting a stop to mass incarcerations? How is it that our elected officials continue to cut more and more out of annual budgets to pay for incarceration and make no effort of reducing the need for that incarceration? I believe it is because they’re paid handsomely to avoid any effort of reforming laws or reducing incarceration. It is simply too profitable to allow us to stop sending men, women and our children to jail and prisons.
“Legislators wonder why the budget for the Department of Corrections is so large,” said one state employee who is familiar with the department. “As long as they keep trying to criminalize everything they find personally offensive in the name of law and order for the benefit of the folks back home, the budget is going to keep growing.
”Each legislative session, dozens of bills are introduced by Louisiana lawmakers to either create new criminal statutes or to increase penalties for existing laws. Only rarely does a bill attempt to reduce penalties for crimes. In the 2010 regular session alone, for example, 68 of 93 bills addressing criminal procedure and crime, called for jail time for new crimes or longer sentences for existing laws. Those included crimes ranging from “unlawfully wearing clothing which exposes undergarments or certain body parts” to cyberbullying, and terrorist acts.
“Local sheriffs relish the opportunity to house state prison inmates because it infuses needed cash into the local coffers. One state official said the actual cost to sheriffs to house the state prisoners is only a fraction of the $24.39 daily income per prisoner. “It’s a big bonus for the sheriffs,” he said.“
Right now prisoners in Georgia are striking due to being used as slave labor by that state’s prison industries. Such strikes are unheard of and one reason is the huge amount of “get-back” available to the prison staff and their willingness to use physical means to force compliance. My heart goes out to these men, as I’ve been there and know how dire their circumstances must be to cause such a dangerous mission from behind bars. Many are trying to provide assistance to them through phone and email communications with prison authorities, but so far the prisons involved (6) remain on indefinite lockdowns with reports of retaliation at each facility being reported via cell phone calls from the inmates. There has been limited media coverage of this historical strike (and no mainstream media attention) – again, it is not in their best interests to publicize this action to the public, for fear of creating a discussion on the merits of using inmate labor in a “slavery like” manner – though from reports, thousands of inmates are participating in the strike. These men represent those who are now performing the work previously performed by Georgia private sector workers, and doing it for pennies on the dollar.
As shown by the above information, every facet of our lives are now touched in some way by prison privatization, prison healthcare, feeding of prisoners or by working prisoners in the PIC. This puts their products in our homes, on our grocer shelves, in our produce consumption and reduces available private sector jobs – including positions for physicians. Sadly we must realize that all of this is financed with our tax dollars that are quickly converted to “profits” once received into the coffers of corporations participating in the PIC.
Many comments have been made to my Insourcing Series saying we should identify those involved and boycott their products and services. As this segment demonstrates, it is nearly impossible to identify each corporation, group, organization or individuals involved in PIC and prison industries. Their products are so vast and diverse, each of our homes now have one or more of those products in use. Even picking up the phone and calling for technical assistance with products, making a reservation or inquiring about services may put us in touch with an inmate on the other end of the phone. The Prison Industrial Complex is simply too vast to avoid or boycott – in a manner typically used by consumers and concerned citizens.
Boycotting is usually an activity used to refuse our business to those involved in practices we object to. In this case it is just too difficult to accurately identify prison industry participants.
I’m working on developing a program now that may allow all of us to identify those companies, businesses and corporations not involved in any way with prison labor or the PIC. We can eliminate the profits realized by corporations using inmate labor, by reducing sales of their products. Just as those participating in the PIC transfer our tax dollars into profits, we can transfer their anticipated future profits back to the private sector worker through participation in this program. The only thing these corporations understand is “profit”. Money drives them and is what gets their attention. So let’s get their attention by denying them sales – not boycotting.
I intend to set up a website allowing those not connected with the PIC, not investing in or funding prison industries and not selling any products made by inmates or inmate provided services to be named. The site is intended to list corporations, retailers, providers and businesses certified as not involved in PIC operations. Links to these certified non-participating company websites and online catalogs, local outlets and products lines will be made available. In addition those industries, corporations, investors, banks, finance companies and others identified as profiting from PIC or prison industries in any form will be identified and “blacklisted”. In this way one comprehensive site can be used to identify those products, services and companies to avoid while providing links to U.S. retailers and companies not involved, that provide the same products or services without the use of prisoners.
In order to participate, these companies must “Certify” in writing that they use no inmate labor, do not invest in or sell products made in prison. Secondly they will be required to use the “Made in U.S.A.” labels with products and services provided by American workers and offer those products to U.S. consumers.
Prison made goods include those made in China and elsewhere that are finding their way to our retail shelves more and more of late. There are strict prohibitions against allowing imported products into the U.S. when those products were made by prison, slave or child labor. These strict provisions are being circumvented in some instances and deliberately ignored by our Custom Service in others. Companies, businesses, retailers and manufacturers wishing to be listed within the proposed site, must certify non-use of those foreign prison-made goods as well.
The site is intended to allow consumers to identify those not involved in prison labor related products and offer shoppers a discount direct from participating U.S. manufacturers, retailers and service providers for purchasing their products or services made by U.S. workers in our private sector markets. This will help increase jobs and deny continued profits to those using inmate labor.
This effort will be time consuming and expensive to develop and put into operation. Sponsors and volunteers will be needed to assist in this endeavor. This is going to need the expertise of a website developer, software programmers, advertising and accounting assistance. We are going to need people to submit to us the names of businesses they own, work for or invest in that are not associated or affiliated with prison labor or products. Money is going to be needed to advertise the site and make consumers aware that such a site exists to provide them with alternatives to prison made products. If successful this will put money into the pockets of those manufacturers and retailers who refuse to become involved in prison made goods for profit. It will provide those businesses with income to hire more workers due to increased production and sales.
Any volunteers…suggestions…advice…assistance? If you believe this is a good idea to help us take back our jobs, eliminate the vast profits made off of cheap prison labor and promote “real” products made by free American workers, write and let me know. If you want to participate or assist in this development, I’m listening…