Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Shining a spotlight on prison slave labour

Buy organic vegetables? Eat meat? Drink milk? Congratulations! You're unwittingly ingesting the fruits of prison slave labour!

Last year, the Corrections department employed 2230 low-security prisoners in its Corrections Inmate Employment scheme, in which they are rented out to outside companies (in violation of international law) or work in Corrections-owned businesses within prison walls. Those prisoners were collectively paid $1.69 million - or about 40 cents an hour. Their labour is effectively forced, the products they make the fruits of slavery.

So, what are those products? Following the Herald story, I asked. According to the response [PDF], the following companies purchased goods and services produced in prison:

Corrections refused to name other businesses on the basis that "supplying this information 'would be likely unreasonably to prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied or who is the subject of the information'".

Corrections also admitted supplying work-parties [PDF] to several city councils and LATEs, as well as commercial forestry companies such as Pan Pac Forest Products, Craigpine, and Proseed. Several of these companies (and several of those named earlier) are exporters. Their exports are now at risk. Quite apart from the reputational risk of using slaves, most countries (including, ironically, New Zealand) ban the import of goods produced in whole or in part by prison labour. Sourcing goods from Corrections' prison labour scheme could see those goods barred from overseas markets.

(It should also result in consequences on the domestic market. People don't like slavery, and are unlikely to react well to companies sourcing their goods from prison slave labour. And contra Corrections, this is not an unreasonable prejudice. Instead, its the natural consequence of these immoral companies' actions. Unfortunately, Corrections' secrecy and the lack of any product labelling requirements prevents us from exercising consumer choice in this matter).

As I've noted previously, I support education and training schemes in prison. But the CIE scheme isn't rehabilitation - it is the exploitation of a literally captive labour market for profit. It is slavery, and it is wrong.