Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone and while loved ones and intended amours are busy looking at the labels of the goodies they have been bought, one thing they are not going to see is, “Made in Prison.”
Yet that is precisely the spot where many Valentine’s Day gifts are made and the honor roll of companies will make you blink more than once: Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, Nintendo, Shelby Sports and the list goes on and on.
For decades prison labor has been exploited by large corporations and major name brands precisely because the labor is as cheap as any sweat shop operation in a Third World country but at the same time, the manufacturer gets to put “Made in America” on it. Prison reform and fair trade groups are banding together to get a law passed to make it compulsory that where prison labor is used, then the label will reflect that fact. The argument goes that big corporations are making high margins on these products precisely because of the low labor overhead, no unions and lack of any benefits such as medical or a 401(k) and so consumers should not be ripped off by being overcharged and it is still wrong to exploit labor no matter what the circumstances. Another compelling point in today’s economically constrained times is that jobs are being taken from the mainstream labor market because of the cheap prison labor.
The manufacturers disagree; this is job skills training that a prisoner is otherwise not going to be able to get and leading to jobs on the outside, frequently with the manufacturer who employed their skills in prison and no matter what the financial implication, the prisoners are rewarded financially for their work as well as with privileges not otherwise available. More than this, many of the jobs would otherwise be done overseas using cheaper labor than the mainstream so the impact overall on the US economy is still positive no matter what the cost of labor.
Nevertheless, are consumers going to buy a high class garment with “Made in Prison” stamped on the label? Do folks even care if barcode labels are literally made behind bars?
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