PLN editor Paul Wright quoted on prison labor, UNICOR
US Prison Labor Lack Health, Safety Inspections - Rights Group
Human Rights Defense Center Director Paul Wright says that US government prison labor corporations like UNICOR are not subject to federal health and safety regulations despite evidence of poor working conditions.
“We [HRDC] have done reports on the toxic work sites run by UNICOR where they have prisoners working in contaminated shops, being exposed to heavy metals and unsafe working conditions,” Wright said. “[But] OSHA [US Occupational Safety and Health Administration] does not have jurisdiction over US federal prisons.”
OSHA enforces US federal safety standards to prevent accidents and eliminate hazardous working conditions, Wright explained.
However, the agency avoids inspecting prison labor facilities run by UNICOR, where prisoners make a range of products from clothing to medical equipment.
Slave labor also hurts the US economy, Wright added. The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) has complained about losing business to prisons even though BIFMA members can provide better quality product at a lower price than the prison industry can.
Prison labor corporations like UNICOR illustrate that the US Constitution, according to Wright, never entirely abolished servitude.
“The Thirteenth Amendment does not eliminate human slavery. It just limits it to prisoners,” Wright concluded.
In 2014, according to its annual report, UNICOR posted $389 million in revenue with more than 40 percent of sales deriving from the production of office furniture, work clothing and orthopedic, prosthetic and surgical equipment.