Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Prison slave labour breaches international law

As part of its Inmate Employment program, the Corrections Department rents out prisoners to councils or private businesses to work outside prison walls. In the past, this has included work as fruitpickers, done solely to relieve a local labour shortage (or rather, a refusal of orchard owners to pay decent wages). A full list of who else they rent prisoners out to will hopefully be forthcoming from Corrections in 20 working days.

This renting out of prisoners is in clear violation of the International Labour Organisation's Forced Labour Convention, to which we are a party. The Forced Labour Convention defines "forced or compulsory labour" as:

all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.
Because sentences of hard labour were so widespread at the time, the Convention made allowances for this, excluding:
any work or service exacted from any person as a consequence of a conviction in a court of law, provided that the said work or service is carried out under the supervision and control of a public authority and that the said person is not hired to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations;
(Emphasis added)

It is very clear that Corrections' practice of hiring out prisoners and placing them at the disposal of private companies does not fall within this exclusion. It thus qualifies as forced labour. Any claim that prisoners "volunteered" when the government controls their personal circumstances and release date, and has made explicit, public threats [PDF] to deny parole to those who refuse to work is simply a joke.

New Zealand is breaking its word on the world stage, and permitting slavery - an evil most civilised countries eradicated in the nineteenth century. Its long past time we stopped.