Warren Pushes Obama To Keep Slavery Ban In Trade Deal
by  &   /  05/28/2015

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has decried efforts by the Obama administration to undermine an anti-slavery measure that the Senate approved last week as part of a major trade bill. The provision, authored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), would bar the U.S. from expediting trade deals with governments that the State Department deems to be among the very worst offenders on human trafficking. The Senate passed the Menendez language late Friday night, despite strident objections from President Barack Obama’s administration. Both Obama officials and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are now working to defang the anti-slavery effort.

The problem for Obama is Malaysia, one of 11 other nations included in the controversial trade talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Malaysia occupies a strategically important position in global shipping routes, but its government has a long history of supporting some of the most abusive forms of human trafficking, earning it a spot on the State Department’s official list of the worst abettors of modern slavery. When asked by The Huffington Post Thursday whether the U.S. should ink trade deals with such countries, Warren responded emphatically in the negative. “I’ll give you a really short answer on that,” Warren said. “No. This is an opportunity for the United States to use our leverage to get countries like Malaysia to clean up their acts,” she added. “We’re talking about really horrible violations of human rights. And Malaysia needs to make significant changes if it wants to be part of a trade agreement with other countries.”

Earning a State Department designation as a Tier 3 human trafficking violator is no easy task. Malaysia’s companions on the list include Iran and North Korea. Other notorious offenders, like Qatar, where hundreds of migrant workers have been killed in recent years, are considered better at fighting human trafficking than Malaysia. The Guardian reported this week on the discovery of mass graves for trafficking victims in Malaysia. One-third of workers in the nation’s burgeoning electronics industry are victims of forced labor, according to the nonprofit group Verite, which works with the State Department on human rights issues. The government is not merely looking the other way — the State Department has said Malaysia needs to beef up efforts to investigate and prosecute government officials who profit from such exploitation.

Most of Warren’s critique has focused on regulatory issues and a host of academic experts have supported her arguments. Leaked TPP documents have revealed that the pact will include an enforcement mechanism known as Investor State Dispute Settlement, which allows corporations to challenge a country’s domestic laws and regulations before an international tribunal. Adverse rulings could require governments to change their laws or pay financial penalties. But much of the debate over TPP has shifted to human rights issues, due to the unexpected Senate survival of the Menendez ban on slavery. Warren’s comments Thursday marked the first time she publicly spoke out on the Malaysian human trafficking issue. Although Obama has touted the TPP as “the most progressive trade bill in history,” complete with robust labor and environmental standards, the administration now finds itself seeking to neutralize a human trafficking crackdown to maintain its trade coalition.

Obama’s Trade Agenda Rewards U.S. Companies That Profit From Slavery
by    /  06/02/2015

President Barack Obama’s effort to include Malaysia in a major pending trade pact has baffled human rights advocates, who see it as a reward for a regime with one of the world’s worst human trafficking records. But the myriad interests involved in the trade fight include some very large American corporations, which are currently padding their profits with labor costs kept low by modern-day slavery in Malaysia. Major U.S. electronics brands, including Intel, AMD, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments and Dell, have relied on Malaysian manufacturing for years — either in their own factories, or through facilities operated by their suppliers. Computer processors, hard drives, smartphone parts and other consumer electronic devices are all part of the slavery system — more than one-fourth of all workers in the Malaysian electronics industry are victims of forced labor, according to a damning 2014 report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor.

U.S. companies say that in the wake of that report, they have enacted corporate policies to root out slave labor from their supply chain. While labor experts applaud the formal changes, they also say that actually implementing them is nearly impossible under current Malaysian government policies. And indeed, American firms have relied on Malaysian labor in large part due to its extremely low cost. Some of the U.S. companies that operate within Malaysia have had privileged access to Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership as members of special Industrial Trade Advisory Committees. While the terms of the TPP deal remain classified information shielded from the American public, ITAC members have access to negotiation documents. Apple, Intel and Hewlett-Packard all have such access, as does the Semiconductor Industry Association, which includes Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel and other processor manufacturers. The TPP talks, which are still ongoing, include the United States, Malaysia and 10 other nations.

The Malaysian government’s indifference to human trafficking abuses across a host of industries now threatens Obama’s trade agenda. The U.S. State Department put Malaysia on its formal list of the worst human trafficking abettors last year, prompted by years of government inaction and reports that Malaysian government officials actually profit from human trafficking with impunity. Landing on the State Department’s bad guys list takes hard work — Malaysia’s peers on the list include Iran and North Korea. Many countries with horrible human trafficking records, including Rwanda and Qatar, have higher State Department ratings than Malaysia.

In order to pass his TPP deal, Obama needs so-called “fast track” powers, which bar Congress from filibustering or amending whatever deal Obama reaches. In late May, the Senate passed a trade bill that would block fast track privileges for trade bills with countries on the State Department’s list of worst human trafficking offenders. Human rights groups heralded the language, which was authored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). So did Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who said inclusion in TPP “is an opportunity for the United States to use our leverage to get countries like Malaysia to clean up their acts.” The Obama administration, by contrast, claims that including Malaysia in the TPP deal will give it more policy tools to fight human trafficking in Malaysia. “TPP is on track to require signatory countries to address forced labor through enforceable labor provisions, which would be a major step forward in regional and international efforts to address this problem,” an administration official told HuffPost. “Further, we are working with Malaysia on specifications to help ensure that it can meet this commitment.”

But Obama’s proposed compromise would not require the Malaysian government to actually alleviate human trafficking problems in order to enjoy expanded trade benefits from the United States. Human rights advocates have consistently said Malaysia should be required to overhaul its trafficking policies before being granted new trade preferences. Forced labor is endemic to the Malaysian economy. It is an integral part of the electronics sector, which is responsible for more than a quarter of all jobs in Malaysia, and extremely widespread, festering in the construction workforce, agriculture, domestic service and any other industry reliant on foreign workers. Most trafficking victims are not native Malaysians, but immigrants who come to Malaysia from Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Nepal and other countries, often fleeing political oppression or natural disasters.

The darkest side of the Malaysian human trafficking business was revealed last week with the discovery of a mass gravesite near the northern border with Thailand. At least 139 graves were discovered, some with multiple bodies. The Malaysian government had been alerted to reports of illegal jungle camps for labor smugglers for almost a decade, according to British newspaper The Guardian, but has not pursued the details. Workers who make it to Malaysian electronics factories aren’t dying in wooded death camps. They’re just trapped in terrible situations, according to the 2014 report, which was performed for DOL by the nonprofit group Verite. The report showed that U.S., European and Japanese companies that operate in Malaysia are heavily reliant on labor recruiters who charge workers hefty up-front fees to get their jobs, typically creating a significant debt burden they have to work to pay off out of paltry wages. Recruiters often confiscate passports and immigration papers, making it impossible for workers to leave the country. Workers frequently live in shabby housing provided by the recruiters, who put restrictions on travel beyond the housing complex or the factory.

Some American firms have operations in Malaysia where they directly employ workers for their own factories. But these firms also rely on other suppliers, who in turn rely on recruiters. The Malaysian government hasn’t substantively altered any of its labor policies in the year since the Verite report was published, although some companies have announced changes in corporate policies. The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, which includes all of the companies mentioned in this article, said in January that it would improve oversight of labor conditions with additional audits of subcontractors involved in the supply chain. “While the EICC Code of Conduct explicitly bans trafficked and forced labor, completely eradicating it in the global electronics industry supply chain remains a challenge for everyone – including EICC members,” the organization said in January.

Apple’s policies have gone further. Any Malaysian company in its supply chain must reimburse workers who have been forced to pay up-front fees as a condition of employment. Hewlett-Packard requires every company in its supply chain to directly hire its own employees — they can’t work indirectly for a recruitment firm. Intel and Texas Instruments say they do not use recruited foreign labor in their own factories, but acknowledged that suppliers have done so. The companies say they forbid forced labor among their suppliers as a matter of company policy. Dell says it thoroughly audits all of its suppliers for abusive practices, and has replaced its suppliers when they have failed to improve conditions. AMD referred HuffPost to the EICC.

But cheap foreign labor remains a key attraction and competitive advantage for Malaysian middlemen that work with major American brands. Malaysian law makes it difficult to employ those workers without going through recruitment firms. Until Malaysia changes its immigration policies, human rights watchdogs expect forced labor to remain a cornerstone of the electronics industry. While many companies have stayed out of the political spotlight on TPP, Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Intel are all members of the U.S. Business Coalition for TPP, which supported the pact long before Menendez sounded a legislative alarm on human trafficking in Malaysia.

While Obama and Republican leaders support TPP, the vast majority of Democrats and a bloc of tea party Republicans are opposed. In mid-May, Menendez acquiesced to compromise language that would have allowed Malaysia to participate in TPP while taking “concrete steps” to address human trafficking — even if those steps did not actually result in any substantive changes. But his original amendment effectively barring Malaysia from the pact nevertheless passed the Senate. On Monday, Menendez authored an op-ed for Roll Call opposing the half-measure and urging the House to block Malaysia from the deal unless it improves its human trafficking record. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) plans to scrap the slavery ban with an amendment to a customs bill.

The Pentagon and Slave Labor in U.S. Prisons
by Sara Flounders / February 04, 2013

“One agency asks: “Are you experiencing high employee turnover? Worried about the costs of employee benefits? Unhappy with out-of-state or offshore suppliers? Getting hit by overseas competition? Having trouble motivating your workforce? Thinking about expansion space? Then Washington State Department of Corrections Private Sector Partnerships is for you.” (, July 25, 2005)

Major corporations profiting from the slave labor of prisoners include Motorola, Compaq, Honeywell, Microsoft, Boeing, Revlon, Chevron, TWA, Victoria’s Secret and Eddie Bauer. IBM, Texas Instruments and Dell get circuit boards made by Texas prisoners. Tennessee inmates sew jeans for Kmart and JCPenney. Tens of thousands of youth flipping hamburgers for minimum wages at McDonald’s wear uniforms sewn by prison workers, who are forced to work for much less.

In California, as in many states, prisoners who refuse to work are moved to disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges as well as “good time” credit, which slices hard time off their sentences. Systematic abuse, beatings, prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation, and lack of medical care make U.S. prison conditions among the worst in the world. Ironically, working under grueling conditions for pennies an hour is treated as a “perk” for good behavior. In December, Georgia inmates went on strike and refused to leave their cells at six prisons for more than a week. In one of the largest prison protests in U.S. history, prisoners spoke of being forced to work seven days a week for no pay. Prisoners were beaten if they refused to work.”

Identifying businesses involved in prison labor or supporting those who are
by Bob Sloan

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:

  1. corporations, businesses and companies that use direct inmate labor for manufacturing and service jobs,
  1. corporations, businesses and companies that contract with other companies to purchase products or services made by inmate labor (such as McDonalds), and,
  1. 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 articles began 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.

“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 state steps-inand 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.

This is exemplified by a recent article on Louisiana’s practice of housing state prisoners in local Parish jails:

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.


Stephanie Wilson was walking out of a ritzy Saks store in New York a few years ago with a brand-new, overpriced handbag, when she noticed a handwritten note in the bottom of the bag.

 The note, signed by Tohnain Emmanuel Njong, said: “We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory.”
A passport-sized photo of a man in an orange jacket was also enclosed. “I read the letter and I just shook,” Ms Wilson told DNAinfo.

This was no urban legend. The prison slave who wrote that letter was real. Fortunately he is no longer in prison. The dirty little secret of today’s global capitalist system is that it continues to rely on slave labor.

Most people think of slavery as something in the distant past. In fact, there are more slaves today than at any time in human history.

 Kevin Bales, lead research on “The Global Slavery Index,” published by the Walk Free Foundation, says despite anti-slavery laws in almost all the world’s countries, 29.8 million people are trapped today in debt bondage, slave labor, sex trafficking, forced labor or domestic servitude.
This compares, according to an article in The Manchester Guardian, with 12.5 million human beings sent as slaves across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas and the Caribbean in the 18th and 19th centuries.


Earlier this month Brazilian police rescued 11 crew members who were living in “slave-like conditions” aboard an Italian cruise ship. The troubling thing from the slavery map above is that it’s not correct.It shows slavery as a thing of Africa and Asia. In fact, slavery is still a very American thing.

 “We have to stop this slave system,” says Melvin Ray “we already went through that institution one time before.” From inside a segregation cell in St Clair Correctional Facility in Melville, Alabama, Ray is trying to organize a strike against unpaid prison labor and for better conditions. Ray and other prisoners involved in the “Free Alabama Movement” announced earlier this month that they would refuse to work prison jobs this week. It would have been the second time this year that Alabama prisoners organized a work stoppage; a similar strike in January began at St Clair and spread to at least two other prisons in the state.

In 2012 Alabama’s government passed a bill allowing private businesses to contract prison labor. The AFL-CIO calls it “quasi-slavery”.

The business of slave labor

The private prison industry is one of the fastest growing industries in America.

 According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.” The figures show that the United States has locked up more people than any other country: a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people.

Ten years ago there were only five private prisons with 2,000 prisoners. In the coming decade the number of prisoners in private prisons is expected to reach 360,000. The crime rate has been falling for decades now, but the prison population keeps climbing. Federal law hands out 10 year sentences for possession of 2 ounces of crack. In Texas,  possessing 4 ounces of marijuana can get you 2 years in prison. 13 states have “three strikes” laws, and they don’t have to be violent felonies. In fact, other laws automatically kick misdemeanors up to felonies. Ninety-seven percent of 125,000 federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes. Two-thirds of the one million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses.

 “The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party.

All this is good news for The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). They’ve seen their revenue increase by 500% in the last two decades. CCA saw $1.7 Billion in revenue in 2011. The Geo Group saw $1.6 Billion in revenue. Together they have spent about $20 million in lobbying, and another $5 million in political donations.

The federal prison industry already makes 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens.

 Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.

However, the real trick is how the contracts are written with the 48 states they are offering their business.

 what made CCA’s pitch to those governors so audacious and shocking was that it included a so-called occupancy requirement, a clause demanding the state keep those newly privatized prisons at least 90 percent full at all times, regardless of whether crime was rising or falling…
In the Public Interest found that 41 of those contracts [out of 62] included occupancy requirements mandating that local or state government keep those facilities between 80 and 100 percent full.


Of course these private prison companies have been big campaign donors for “three-strike” and “truth-in-sentencing” laws, which just proves the claim of the Progressive Labor Party when they say “The system feeds itself”.

This is all very familiar. We’ve seen it before in post-Civil War south. It was called Convict Leasing. The prisoners would work for companies during the day outside of prison, and then return to their cells at night. Neglect, brutality, and abuse of the prisoners were rampant, as was official corruption. The conditions were so harsh that prisoners rarely survived longer than 10 years, but everyone was making money from it (except for the prisoners, of course) so the system remained. In fact the system was so successful that there was a need for more labor. In many states simple assault carried sentences of seven and eight years of hard labor. Larceny could get you twenty years in prison. Stealing five dollars worth of goods could net you twelve months. Even the theft of a rail fence could put you in prison stripes.

Of course, this reality wasn’t true for everyone (read: white people). If it was then there would be a political backlash. Instead these inhumane laws fell disproportionately on the recently freed black community. At Tennessee’s main prison in Nashville, African-Americans represented 33 percent of the prisoners in October of 1865. In 1866 Tennessee passed it’s convict leasing law. By 1869, 64% of the prison was African-American, and it kept climbing in the following years. This abuse of prisoners by so-called capitalists ended in the early 20th Century only because of the efforts of the labor movement, sometimes with violence. The decline of labor unions has witnessed the return of the private prison industry and once again african-Americans are the primary victims.

Slavery By A Different Name: The Convict Lease System
by Devon DB  /  June 01, 2012

After the Civil War, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional amendments were passed which aided newly freed slaves in being equally treated under the law, or so the story goes. The fact of the matter is that slavery was- and still is- completely legal in the United States and not only that, but it took on a much different form. The institution of slavery changed as instead of having the direct enslavement of blacks with an entire apparatus that had to be created to keep slaves in their condition, elements of the state apparatus were used to enslave blacks, namely the legal and prison systems. Yet, the enslavement itself was changed as black convicts were no longer slaves to individual masters, but rather they were enslaved to the companies which they were leased out to. To create this system there not only had to be the involvement of the Southern judicial system and individual Northern and Southern elites, but also the involvement of the corporation and reinstitution of slavery within a corporate context.

The 13th Amendment

To attain a full understanding of the convict lease system, there must first be a reexamination of the 13th amendment. It has been stated in history books and in classrooms across America that this amendment ended slavery, yet this is quite false. The 13th Amendment states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” [1] (emphasis added) Thus, slavery is completely and totally legal if it is part (or the whole) of a punishment for someone who was convicted of a crime.

When debating the 13th amendment, many in Congress were not thinking of slaves, but rather white labor, with Senator Henry Wilson saying “The same influences that go to keep down and crush down the rights of the poor black man bear down and oppress the poor white laboring man.” [2] Senator Richard Yates of Illinois was much blunter, stating that he had “never had the negro on the brain” [3] when discussing the amendment. Such notions are in the absurd! Wilson is correct to an extent when he argues that both slave and white labor are oppressed by the same system; both are oppressed in that they are being manipulated and played off one another by the elite of both the North and South. Still, Wilson ignores the fact that white labor was very much less oppressed than black slave labor as white laborers were seen as human being, deserving of dignity and respect, rather than treated worse than animals. White laborers were free to do as they pleased, not having to worry about ensuring that they consistently had papers on their person as to prove their freedom.

The passing of the 13th amendment should be examined within the context of an economic competition between black slave labor and free white labor. The South’s economy was built around slave labor and the ability to have the slaves produce more than they were ‘worth,’ seeing as how slaves were viewed as not just general property but a long-term economic investment which helped the Southern plantation elite. Yet, due to the existence of slavery, white labor suffered as not only did they lose out on the income they were making when slavery was first introduced as well as the potential future income, but also white labor was unable to make advances within the South as slave provided a source of labor that was less expensive in the long-term.

Senator Henry Williams illustrates these points and other problems that white labor had with slavery. He stated that

slavery was evil because it destroyed much of the richest land in the South; it degraded labor and the meaning of labor for poor white working men in the South; it robbed the South of culture by degrading the efforts of laborers; and it allowed southern aristocrats to further insult northern white workers by demeaning their laboring efforts as crabbed and mean. It was the association between labor and slavery in the minds of southern aristocrats that demeaned the efforts of industrious northern laborers. Thus, slavery pulled white workers down in two ways: one, by direct competition with slave labor in the South, and two, by associating all the industrious efforts of workers with those of the degraded slaves. [4] (emphasis added)

Thus, the only way for white labor to triumph in their struggle for rights such as a fair wage and regular working hours was for the abolition of slavery. White labor had a direct interest in the nullification of slavery. Yet, there was a difference of opinion in the minds of Southern elites who wanted to continue slavery, but on different terms.

Southern Elites

Before discussing the Southern elites, one must first examine it within the context of the Southern economy after the Civil War. It was utterly in shambles, one could make quite the argument that it had been decimated and demolished in virtually every conceivable way. The entire economy of the South was built upon the institution of slavery and agriculture. With the end of the Civil War, not only was the Southern economy damaged by the freeing of black slaves, but also the land was deeply scarred and hurt, thus creating an immediate economic problem. However, among all of this there was an opportunity reorient and reconstruct the economy around a new labor source as cheap labor would be needed to rebuild the region.

The social order must be examined as well. While the slaves were now free and able to do as they pleased, there was still a deeply embedded racism within the minds of Southern whites. Just because blacks had fought in the Civil War did not suddenly mean that the perception of blacks had changed; rather to the Southern elites, they still viewed blacks as inferior and only good for labor, longing to perpetuate the slave system but within a new industrial framework seeing as how the agricultural framework had been destroyed. This new system was to be found in the convict leasing.

The leasing out of state convicts to private hands has its basis in the minds of such people as John T. Milner of Alabama. Milner was no ordinary man, rather he was a Southern elite who “was in the vanguard of that new theory of industrial forced labor,” writing in 1859 that “black labor marshaled into the regimented productivity of factory settings would be the key to the economic development of Alabama and the South.” [5] Milner’s idea of using regimented black labor can be seen in his involvement of a project for the Blue River, a railroad company, in Alabama. In 1859 he issued a plan for the laying of rail in Montgomery, “presenting statistical evidence to demonstrate the potential economic benefit to Montgomery of securing connections with Decatur,” a city north of Montgomery. He argued that the Blue River could build its own track in nearby Jones Valley with the use of slave labor. Yet, in Milner’s mind, this slave labor had to be managed by whites. He stated “A negro who can set a saw, or run a grist mill, or work in a blacksmith shop, can do work as cheaply in a rolling mill, even now, as white men do at the North, provided he has an overseer, a southern man, who knows how to manage negroes.” [6] (emphasis added) After the end of the Civil War, Milner’s plan changed, but he was convinced that “the future of blacks in America rested on how whites chose to manage them.” [7] To this end, in the 1870s, he moved with purpose to acquire the black convict labor that Alabama’s prisons were offering up. He took these convicts and put them to work in coal mines, treating them barbarically.

Records of Milner’s various mines and slave farms in southern Alabama owned by one of his business partners- a cousin to an investor in the Bibb Steam Mill- tell the stories of black women stripped naked and whipped, of hundreds of men starved, changed, and beaten, of workers perpetually lice-ridden and barely clothed. [8]

Black Americans, many of them former slaves, were essentially re-enslaved but within the context of a corporate structure with an alliance between the state and the corporation. Yet, the judicial system was greatly involved in allowing this to occur, from the laws passed to sheriffs selling of convicts to companies.

The Judicial System

In order to allow for the convict lease system to exist and for blacks to be reduced to their former state as a labor source, it required that the law limit the rights of blacks and criminalize black life to the point that blacks could be imprisoned on the most frivolous of offenses. Such laws took the form of Black Codes. To understand the creation of Black Codes, it is necessary to understand the social order that motivated elites to push for such legislation. North Carolina is a prime example. After the war, the elite would have preferred the system to revert back to the status quo that existed under the slave system, yet this was not possible due to the liberation of blacks and free whites caused by the destruction of the slave system. This problem was greatly exacerbated by the fact that “in suppressing the war to dissolve the Union the whites were deprived of arms while many Negroes had easily obtained them,” thus “A general feeling of insecurity on the part of the whites” resulted. [9] Armed blacks were a threat to elite interests as by being able to defend and protect themselves; blacks would be able to ensure that they would not be re-enslaved. Furthermore, it presented a problem to the overall white power structure as having weapons would empower blacks to stand up for themselves and assert their rights not only as Americans but also as human beings and such a situation bought the memories and worries of a slave revolt back to the forefront of the minds of elites.

To put blacks back ‘in their place,’ the elite pushed several laws that were passed in the state legislature such as defining “a Negro as any person of African descent, although one ancestor to the fourth generation might be white.” [10] The fact that racial identity was dependent on the mother rather than the father made the situation all the worse as blacks who had white fathers, whether by marriage or by rape, were now considered to be black and thus would be subject to the worst aspects of living within a white supremacist society. Another example of the law being used to punish blacks was those laws concerning vagrancy. In North Carolina there was a problem concerning labor as after the Civil War, blacks and whites were working on their own fields, yet

Many others less energetic, white and black, were flooding the towns and refusing work of any sort, for in the days of bondage, master and slave had been taught that to labor with the hands was undignified: consequently, freedom to many Negroes meant a deliverance from hard labor. [11]


These workers proved a problem to North Carolinian industrialists and agriculturalists as few could afford to pay workers a wage until the crop had been grown, not to mention that neither employee nor employer were familiar with a wage system. A solution was found in creating vagrancy laws. Of the workers who refused to do any labor, vagrancy laws were passed that stated that a person who had no means of survival or refused to work would be regarded a vagrant and sent to court, however, a payment could be offered which would be conditional upon the good behavior of the vagrant for one year and thus would allow the person to get off scot free. Yet if the person was unable to make such a payment, they would be convicted a vagrant and fined, imprisoned, or both. When concerning now freed slaves, the laws was much harsher as many of them, once convicted, were apprenticed to their former owners under a contract or being leased to a corporation. In the contract, the owner was to feed, clothe, and instruct the freed slave in reading, writing, and arithmetic and, upon the end of the apprenticeship, they were to be given money, a new set of clothes, and a new Bible as payment for the work done. However, such repayment rarely occurred or was enforced by the state government.

Overall in the South, vagrancy laws were so vaguely defined that any free black that was not under the protection of a white person could be arrested. Such laws allowed for police to “round up idle blacks in times of labor scarcity and also gave employers a coercive tool that might be used to keep workers on the job.” [12] With the judicial system having established a means to ensure a continuous supply of cheap labor, the leasing could now begin.

Convict Leasing

The act of leasing out convicts isn’t anything new as in states such as Alabama, where the government had no interest in caring for convicts; prisoners were leased out to companies. While this may have helped prisons get convicts off their hands, they made no extra revenue from it. After the Civil War, such leasing began to pick up steam as corporations had access to almost free labor.

Labor scarcity between states was a major problem and thus concerted efforts were made by each state to keep black prison labor within their borders. This was done be waging war on emigrant agents, people who specialized in moving labor from where it was abundant to where it was scarce. They had done this when slavery was still existent and it continued under the newly freed slaves. Such agents were viewed as a threat to white farmers as by moving black labor here and there, it threatened the establishment of a stable labor source. Though in the early months emigrant agents were ignored, many states established anti-emigrant agent laws due to their need to keep in black labor. One example is in 1876 when Georgia, “Hard hit by black movement to the West,” passed legislation that “levied an annual tax of $100 for each county in which a recruiter sought labor. A year later she raised the amount to $500.” [13]

Convict leasing, interestingly enough, resulted in power being taken from the state level and given to those on the local level to the point that sheriffs became quite powerful soon after the Civil War ended as “County sheriffs and judges had dabbled with leasing black convicts out to local famers, or to contractors under hire to repair roads and bridges, beginning almost immediately after the Civil War.” [14] This economic empowerment of sheriffs created an incentive for them to convict and lock up as many freedmen as possible and keep a steady supply of labor. An entire economy eventually formed around the convict lease system, including a speculative trade system in convict contracts developed.

The witnesses and public officials who were owed portions of the lease payments earned by convicts received paper receipts- usually called scrips- from the county that could be redeemed only after the convict had generated enough money to pay them off. Rather than wait for the full amount, holders of scrips would sell their notes for cash to speculators at a lower than face amount. In return, the buyers were to receive the full lease payments- profiting handsomely from on those convicts who survived, losing money on the short-lived. [15]

While there was much profit to be made in the convict lease system, not everyone was happy with it, namely, white labor.

Labor’s Reaction to Convict Leasing

Just as how white labor was against slavery due to it undermining their struggle for better working conditions, they were also against the convict lease system for the very same reasons. Never did they stop to consider the fact that both worker and freedman were being manipulated by the very same systems that governed them.

Labor’s anti-convict leasing sentiments were felt long before the Civil War began. In 1823 in New York City, journey men cabinet makers conducted a mass meeting to discuss prison-made good being introduced to the market and how it threatened their trade. In that same year, also in New York City, mechanics petitioned the state legislature to end the use of prison labor. [16]

During the Civil War, labor unions were opposed to the use of convict labor, arguing that it “tended to lower the wages of thousands of laborers, and in some instances has virtually driven certain kinds of labor out of the field” and that” the contractor is seeking cheap labor and cares nothing for the welfare of the prisoner.” [17] However it should be noted that unions were not opposed to all convict labor, as they stated that they were fine with prisoners building a state prison. Thus, the labor unions didn’t truly care about the brutal, inhumane treatment of convicts, but whether or not the convicts were encroaching on their area of employment.

Yet this should not be examined as a separate battle between free labor and convict labor, but rather a continuation of the struggle between the two groups. Once again, the only way white labor’s goals could be achieved was with the destruction of most of the convict lease system to protect their own industries. While the convict leasing may have been profitable for a select few and a thorn in the side to many, eventually the system would have to end.

The End of Convict Leasing

Due to a mixture of the changes in economic and social landscape, convict leasing would eventually die out. However, it is important to first note that the economic and social justifications for such a system reinforced each other as not only was it “an expedient by which Southern states with depleted treasuries could avoid costly expenditures; it was also one of the greatest single sources of personal wealth to some of the South’s leading businessmen and politicians.” [18] The Southern elites benefitted greatly from the system and thus put all their efforts into perpetuating the system for as long as possible.

If one only looks on the surface at the abolition of convict leasing, they may assume that its demise was due to the public indignation that arose against the system yet this is not the case- far from it, rather it involved a combination of race, politics, and economics depending on the state. For example, in Louisiana, convict leasing was abolished due to it being “part of a reform package which had as its purpose the complete triumph of white supremacy in political affairs” whereas in Tennessee, its leaders

decided that the demands of fiscal responsibility dictated abolition when the expense of maintaining the militia at convict stockades-a cost incurred by an armed rebellion on the part of free miners who were displaced by convict gangs-proved greater than the income from the leasing contract. [19]

In this system was embedded racism, politics, and economics, but it was also just as much embedded in violence and brutality. Men and women were beaten, bloodied, bruised, and valued only so long as they were able to do labor. They were reduced to nothing more than human resources, human tools to do the bidding of and enrich white industrialists and agriculturalists from the North and the South. From the Civil War to World War Two, black Americans were re-enslaved under a new system that was no better than the first.



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