This may be known to some of you, but to me this was a total surprise: slave labour in prisons is actually very much enmeshed with big corporations.
There are presently 80,000 inmates in the US employed in commercial activity, some earning as little as 21 cents an hour. The US government program Federal Prison Industries (FPI) currently employs 21,000 inmates, an increase of 14 percent in the last two years alone. FPI inmates make a wide variety of products—such as clothing, file cabinets, electronic equipment and military helmets—which are sold to federal agencies and private companies. FPI sales are $600 million annually and rising, with over $37 million in profits.
In addition, during the last 20 years more than 30 states have passed laws permitting the use of convict labor by commercial enterprises. These programs now exist in 36 states.
Prisoners now manufacture everything from blue jeans, to auto parts, to electronics and furniture. Honda has paid inmates $2 an hour for doing the same work an auto worker would get paid $20 to $30 an hour to do. Konica has used prisoners to repair copiers for less than 50 cents an hour. Toys R Us used prisoners to restock shelves, and Microsoft to pack and ship software. Clothing made in California and Oregon prisons competes so successfully with apparel made in Latin America and Asia that it is exported to other countries.
Inmates are also employed in a wide variety of service jobs as well. TWA has used prisoners to handle reservations, while AT&T has used prison labor for telemarketing. In Oregon, prisoners do all the data entry and record keeping in the Secretary of State’s corporation division. Other jobs include desktop publishing, digital mapping and computer-aided design work.