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Toxic Sweat Shops - How UNICOR Prison Recycling Harms Workers, Communities, the Environment, and the Recycling Industry, CEH, 2006

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TOXIC SWEATSHOPS:
How UNICOR Prison Recycling Harms Workers,
Communities, the Environment, and the
Recycling Industry

Center for Environmental Health
Prison Activist Resource Center
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
Computer TakeBack Campaign
October 2006

Authors
Anita Sarah Jackson is a researcher for the Center for
Environmental Health (CEH). CEH protects the public from environmental and consumer health hazards. They are committed to
environmental justice, reducing the use of toxic chemicals, supporting communities in their quest for a safer environment, and
corporate accountability. CEH changes corporate behavior
through education, litigation, and advocacy.
Aaron Shuman is a researcher for the Prison Activist Resource
Center (PARC). PARC is an all-volunteer grassroots group committed to producing materials that expose human rights violations
behind prison walls while fundamentally challenging the rapid
expansion of the prison industrial complex. PARC provides support to prisoners, their family members, and communities, and
information to educators and activists.
Gopal Dayaneni is a researcher and organizer for the Silicon
Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC). SVTC is a diverse organization
engaged in research, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to
promote human health and environmental justice in response to
the rapid growth of the high-tech industry.
The Computer TakeBack Campaign is a national coalition of
organizations promoting sustainable and responsible practices
throughout the high-tech electronics industry, to protect public
health and the environment.
Design
Design Action Collective
Editors
Happy /L.A. Hyder
Michael Starkey, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
Robin L. Turner, University of California, Berkeley
Acknowledgements
Thank you to all of the prisoners and all those working in
UNICOR’s factories who trusted us with their stories. We thank
Leroy Smith, a prison safety manager, who blew the whistle on
violations at UNICOR’s recycling operation. Thank you to Sheila
Davis, Ted Smith, Sarah Westervelt, Michael Green, Aditi Vaidya,
Barbara Kyle, Maureen Cane, Michael Robin, John Doucette,
Satya, Martha Hoppe, and all external reviewers for their comments, suggestions, and support.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Executive Summary............................................................ 4
Key Findings.................................................................6
UNICOR has failed to adequately protect
prisoners and staff from exposure to toxics...........6

VI. Alternatives: Responsible
Electronics Recycling.................................................32
The Pledge of True Stewardship
for Electronics Recyclers.........................................32

UNICOR has failed to protect communities from
hazardous materials...................................................6

Workers’ Rights Are
the First Line of Defense...........................................33

UNICOR undercuts responsible recycling
businesses....................................................................6

Clean, Secure, and Efficient
Demanufacturing Processes...................................34

I. Introduction.....................................................................8

VII. Undercutting Responsible Recyclers......................36

II. How UNICOR Ran Into Trouble
with the Law..................................................................10
Investigations Lead to Public Scrutiny..................12
Special Counsel Becomes Involved......................18

Responding to the E-Waste Crisis:
Making a Just Choice...............................................38
VIII. Conclusion...................................................................40
Appendix A: UNICOR: Things You Can Do.....................42

III. UNICOR: The Problem of Federal Prison
Industries. . ...................................................................18
A Cure for Idleness: the Development of UNICORE.........18
IV. Government Sweatshops:
As Cheap as Export Dumping............... .....................22
UNICOR’s “Repatriation” Is Not Job Training.........24
V. E-Waste, Environmental Justice,
and the EPA...................................................................26
Prisoners Are an Environmental Justice
Community of Concern..............................................28
EPEAT Rejected Banning Use
of Prison Labor...........................................................29
A Long Toxic Legacy Creates Costs
For Everyone...............................................................29

Appendix B: UNICOR’s Electronics Recycling
Claims and Facts..........................................................46
End Notes............................................................................50

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY | 4

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In the past few years, the storm of complaints about UNICOR’s recycling program from prisoners, prison guards, and
others has brought these hidden sweatshops into public view. Since 1994, UNICOR has built a lucrative business that
employs prisoners to recycle electronic
waste (e-waste). A massive array of ewaste is largely hidden from view, as are
the workers who handle the waste. Over

100,000 computers become obsolete in
the U.S. every day.1 And that’s only the
computers. E-waste includes computers,
personal digital assistants, TVs, and other
electronic devices. E-waste is a doubleedged sword: it is rich in precious materials that can be recycled, but it also contains a cocktail of hazardous chemicals
such as lead, mercury, polyvinyl chloride
(PVC), and cadmium.

5 | EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“What I and others think is
the funniest thing about this
recycling plant is that the
STATE made it illegal to dis pose of computers and
computer peripherals in
their waste and garbage
dumps, because it is haz ardous to the health of
STATE citizens. Guess who

This report examines the e-waste recycling programs run by Federal Prison
Industries (FPI), a government-owned
corporation that does business under the
trade name UNICOR. Founded in 1934 as
a work program to keep prisoners occu-

the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration, which cannot conduct
surprise inspections. The quotations presented in this report are drawn from letters and affidavits received by Silicon
Valley Toxics Coalition. Identifying char-

pied, FPI has become a large government

acteristics have been stripped due to

contractor, generating over $765 million

reports of firings and retaliation against

in sales in 2005. UNICOR’s connections

prisoners. While this report is grounded

gave it access to lucrative government

in prisoners’ experiences, you also will

contracts and easily made it a force in the
e-waste recycling industry. As journalist

meet responsible recyclers, contractors,
and prison staff who recognize the prob-

Elizabeth Grossman states, “With revenue
of ten million dollars in 2004, seven loca-

lems of exploitation in e-waste.

tions ... and roughly one thousand inmate
employees who in 2004 processed nearly
44 million pounds of electronic equipment, UNICOR is one of the country’s

Government hearings and investigations
confirm that serious problems exist. As
U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch stated:

largest electronics recyclers, and its prices
are tough to beat.”2 Unfortunately,
UNICOR’s low prices come at the expense
of its captive labor force.

our biggest provider of old
and recycleable computers
and monitors is?? Yup, you
guessed it: the good ol'
STATE!!! They are too dan gerous for their law-abiding
citizens, who need to be
protected, but they aren't
too hazardous to federal

Some types of discarded electronics are
considered hazardous waste by the EPA
and other regulatory agencies, researchers,
industries, and advocates across the globe.
As states become aware that these hazards
may leach into and contaminate soil and
groundwater, more are banning televisions, monitors, and sometimes other
electronics from landfills.

prison inmates incarcerated
in STATE, who are not given
all the information, the cor rect or adequate tools...and
who are not being given
adequate safety gear to
protect them from the haz ardous wastes that the citi zens are being protected
from. Ironic, isn't it??!!”
—Prisoner A

Quoted in sidebars throughout this
report, you will hear directly from prisoners, the front-line workers recycling ewaste for UNICOR. The conditions prisoners describe are dire. UNICOR’s captive
laborers work in conditions similar to
those in sweatshops across the world.
Prisoners have few of the labor rights and
protections other U.S. workers enjoy.
Prisoners are excluded from the Fair
Labor Standards Act and insufficiently
protected by regulatory agencies such as

Federal employees and prisoners
inhaling poisons due to the neglect
of their superiors, and federal
agencies whitewashing the investigation. It sounds like a Hollywood
dramatization like Shawshank
Redemption, or a John Grisham
novel with wild conspiracy theories. In this case, however, workers
and inmates were exposed to hazardous materials without protection... and the Bureau of Prisons
and Federal Prison Industries did
nothing to stop it, and indeed frustrated attempts to investigate the
matter... Now some people might
say, prisoners getting poisoned?
What’s the big deal? Who cares?
We do.3
This report’s principal findings are outlined below.

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 6

KEY FINDINGS
UNICOR has failed to adequately protect prisoners and staff
from exposure to toxics.

nated mopheads...at county landfills” and that “mop water would be
disposed down sewage drains,
which would be released into the
city waste water treatment plant.”4
Concern about the community
health and safety effects of prisons
is in keeping with the findings of
the recently concluded national, bi-

When dismantling electronics, prisoners
handling toxic components need ventilation, proper tools, and adequate protective
gear, as do prison staff working in the
area. UNICOR facilities repeatedly failed
to provide proper recycling procedures to
captive laborers and staff supervisors.
UNICOR’s policy of measured modernization— limiting automation in order to
maximize the number of prisoners who
work—increases the risk of workplace
injuries to prisoners and guards. The
adverse health effects of long-term exposure to the toxic materials in e-waste are
costs that families and/or public health
services will bear— not UNICOR.

UNICOR has failed to protect
communities from hazardous
materials.
Poor workplace safety practices
affect communities as well. Leroy
Smith, a prison health and safety
manager, has expressed concerns
about prison guards who go home
to their families with dust on their
clothes. Smith’s attorney Mary
Dryovage and Jeff Ruch, director of
Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility, have
noted that Smith’s claims “were not
fully investigated,” including
charges that UNICOR disposed of
“hazardous metals” and “contami-

partisan Commission on Safety and
Abuse in America’s Prisons, which
open, “What happens inside jails
and prisons does not stay inside
jails and prisons. It comes home
with prisoners when they are
released and with corrections officers at the end of each day’s shift ....
It influences the safety, health, and
prosperity of us all.”5

UNICOR undercuts responsible
recycling businesses.
Not all electronics recyclers are the same.
Much of what passes as “electronics recycling” is exporting harm — dumping ewaste on poor communities in China,
India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries.6 However, a growing segment of the
U.S. electronics recycling industry is taking concrete steps to educate and to protect workers, communities, and the environment. These recyclers are being
undermined by UNICOR’s government
sweatshop model. UNICOR’s low wages,
limited worker protections, and use of

“When the operation began,

outdated equipment allow UNICOR to
underbid conscientious commercial recycling operations.

to head height and slam the CRT

In the past few years, a barrage of complaints about UNICOR’s recycling program from prisoners and prison guards
has forced the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to

most glass room workers would
heft the CRT [cathode ray tube]
down on the metal table and
keep slamming it on the table
until the glass broke away from
whatever they were trying to
remove.”
—Prisoner D

7 | EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

investigate workplace conditions. BOP
admitted in a 2005 report that prisoners
and staff in at least three UNICOR

California, have pulled their contracts due
to public pressure. Additionally, recyclers
have successfully challenged UNICOR’s

Recycling factories—Elkton, Ohio;
Texarkana, Texas; and Atwater,
California—were exposed to toxics.7 The
U.S. Office of Special Counsel later

effort to compete for EPA recycling contracts set aside for small businesses.

declared BOP’s inquiry “cursory at best”8
and recommended an independent inves-

Environmental Health, Silicon Valley
Toxics Coalition, Prison Activist Resource
Center, and the Computer TakeBack
Campaign aim to uncover and stop the
environmental health abuse and exploitation of workers in prisons; expose UNICOR as an unacceptable choice for electronics recycling; and educate institutions,
corporations, and individuals seeking
responsible electronics recycling options

tigation.
In September 2006, Special Counsel Scott
Bloch named BOP employee Leroy Smith
Public Servant of the Year for blowing the
whistle on UNICOR’s failure to protect
workers. Smith served as a health and
safety manager at the Atwater federal
prison. In his prepared comments for the
award ceremony, Smith contended that
conditions at UNICOR Recycling have not
been remedied:
I receive calls from my colleagues
working in computer recycling
operations at other correctional
institutions who describe coming
home coated in dust. They had
been assured that there was no
danger. Now, many have health
problems and others are scared

“We are required to scrape the
labels off the CRTs but we aren't
given scrapers to do it with. We
are told to use or make sharp
knife-like objects [out of monitor
parts] and to use them to scrape
the labels off the CRTs. Many
inmates lacerate themselves
while following these orders.”
—Prisoner B

about what lies in store for them
.... [B]oth staff and inmates do not
know what they have been exposed
to or in what quantities. I am at a
loss as to what to tell them. I do
not know what resources are available to them or who will be able to
answer their questions.9
Despite media coverage of problems with
UNICOR Recycling, prisoners and
impacted communities continue to face
major barriers in pursuing their rights to
be free of exposure to toxics. In recent
years, some of UNICOR’s larger clients,
including Dell Inc. and the state of

By publishing this report, the Center for

that promote high labor, environmental,
and human rights standards.10

INTRODUCTION | 8

I.
INTRODUCTION

A new form of electronic waste (e-waste)

fully with the dismally low wages and dire
working conditions found in poor communities in countries such as China,

most of the risks onto the expanding pool
of captive prison labor, overwhelmingly
poor people of color. UNICOR’s prison
recycling program creates environmental
injustices, violates prisoners’ rights, and
undermines responsible commercial ewaste recycling businesses.

India, the Philippines, and Nigeria.11
Prison recycling programs—specifically
those run by Federal Prison Industries
(FPI, or UNICOR)—externalize many
operational costs onto taxpayers and place

E-waste includes computers, TVs, monitors, stereos, cell phones, and other electronic equipment. E-waste contains a mixture of hazardous chemicals, precious

recycling has emerged in the U.S.: the
prison recycling program. These government sweatshops are competing success-

9 | INTRODUCTION

metals, and plastics. During the recycling
process, electronics must be carefully dismantled because the hazardous materials
within—carcinogenic, mutagenic, reproductive, and developmental toxins—can
have profoundly deleterious effects on
workers.12 For example, lead comprises
roughly 20% of the glass in a traditional
TV or computer monitor.13 Lead can
damage the nervous system, cardiovascular system, and the kidneys.14 Other toxic
materials that can be found in electronics
include mercury, cadmium, and halogenated organics such as brominated
flame retardants. Prisoners describe being
forced to break open some computer
monitors because prisoners were denied
the proper tips to unscrew housing shells
from the Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs), and
report using hammers to break the CRTs’
leaded glass.15 These kinds of practices
put prisoners and prison staff at risk.
This report uses prisoners’ letters and affidavits, information revealed by prison
staff, published reports, and public hearings and investigations to bring UNICOR’s
toxic sweatshops into public view.

A fire in November 2003 at
Atwater Prison set computer
monitors and televisions at the
UNICOR electronics recycling
facility ablaze.

Featured in sidebars throughout this
report are quotations from prisoners, the
front-line workers in UNICOR factories.16
Identifying characteristics have been
removed to protect prisoners from retaliation.
UNICOR is a government-owned corporation, operating in the name of justice and
the people, with significant resources
from taxpayer dollars through direct and
indirect subsidies. Despite UNICOR’s
claims about environmental stewardship
in e-waste recycling, its practices fall short
in comparison with responsible commercial domestic recyclers. UNICOR has
periodically drawn opposition from business and labor groups concerned about its
effect on the U.S. economy. The history
of UNICOR’s expansion and the resistance
against it provide both concern and hope
for the future of electronic waste recycling. We begin by describing how
UNICOR’s prison recycling program first
received public scrutiny.

HOW UNICOR RAN INTO TROUBLE WITH THE LAW | 10

II.
HOW UNICOR RAN INTO TROUBLE
WITH THE LAW

UNICOR began its electronics recycling

When it opened in April 2002, the elec-

business in 1994 in a federal prison in

tronics recycling facility in Atwater,

Marianna, Florida. Over the next few

California was hailed as UNICOR’s

years, UNICOR’s electronics recycling

“largest to date.”19 At that time, Leroy

operation spread to several federal pris-

Smith was the health and safety manager

ons, including Elkton, Ohio and Fort Dix,

at the Atwater federal prison. As a four-

New Jersey.

teen-year veteran of the Bureau of Prisons

17

As of September 2005, UNI-

COR had electronics recycling facilities in

(BOP), Smith consistently received out-

seven prisons.

standing job evaluations.

18

11 | HOW UNICOR RAN INTO TROUBLE WITH THE LAW

UNICOR E-WASTE RECYCLING TIMELINE
1994. UNICOR opens its first e-waste
recycling facility at the federal prison in
Marianna, FL.20

MAY 1997.

“Demanufacturing” of CRTs
begins at the federal prison at Elkton,
OH.21

OCTOBER 2001. “Demanufacturing” of
CRTs begins at the federal prison at
Texarkana, TX.22

APRIL 2002. UNICOR’s “largest to date”
Prison Locations with UNICOR
Electronics Recycling Facilities
Atwater, CA
Fort Dix, NJ
Marianna, FL
Tucson, AZ
Elkton, OH
Lewisburg, PA
Texarkana, TX

electronic waste recycling facility opens in
Atwater, CA.23

MARCH 2003. SVTC tours the UNICOR
facility at Atwater.24 A prisoner affidavit
says that UNICOR shut down the “glassbreaking” unit the following day.

JUNE 2003. SVTC/CTBC publishes
“Corporate Strategies for Electronics
Recycling: A Tale of Two Systems,” which
contrasts Micro Metallics (a recycler used
by Hewlett Packard) with UNICOR (a
recycler used by Dell).25

JUNE 2005

. BOP submits a report to the
Office of the Special Counsel concerning
Leroy Smith’s allegations. The report concedes that toxic exposure occurred in at
least three UNICOR recycling facilities—
Atwater, CA.; Elkton, OH; and Texarkana,
TX., but BOP claims that no toxic exposures have been documented at Atwater
since December 2003.28 Leroy Smith later
files a response with the OSC.

AUGUST 2005.

UNICOR’s “Project
GREEN-FED,” a pilot project that offers
Arkansas residents free e-waste recycling,
is announced. E-waste will be shipped to
Texarkana. If profitable, UNICOR plans to
offer this service nationwide. 29

APRIL 2006.

The Office of Special
Counsel finds the BOP’s report “unreasonable” and backs Leroy Smith’s call for “an
independent investigation not subject to
BOP management.”30

MAY 2006.

Dell announces it will stop
using UNICOR.26

The Inspector General of the
Department of Justice announces an audit
will be conducted to investigate conditions at all UNICOR recycling facilities.31
An arbitrator is scheduled to hear a grievance from the guards union at Atwater
concerning UNICOR Recycling.

MARCH 2005. Public Employees for

SEPTEMBER 2006. The Office of Special

Environmental Responsibility publicly
alleges that BOP headquarters “removed
most admissions of fault” from an Atwater
warden’s response to OSHA.27

Counsel names Leroy Smith Public
Servant of the Year for his fight to hold
the UNICOR recycling program accountable.32

JULY 2003.

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 12

When the Atwater facility opened, Smith
was surprised to discover that, “There
were no type of plans, procedures, any of

Investigations Lead to Public
Scrutiny

those things to try to assist [Associate
Warden and Atwater UNICOR Manager
Thomas] Stahley or the institution or
myself in how to implement this recycling
program.”33 This was after UNICOR had

Weeks later, Smith paid for air quality
testing using his own departmental budget after UNICOR refused to foot the bill.38
The tests found lead and cadmium levels

"We at that time believed that

in excess of Occupational Safety and

we weren't in danger of toxicity

spent eight years in the e-waste recycling
business and had established facilities in
at least three other federal prisons.
In June 2002, Smith appeared on the
UNICOR factory floor wearing ear muffs
and safety glasses, and prisoners wanted
better protective equipment. Thomas
Stahley erupted. According to Smith’s
supervisor at the time, Associate Warden
Richard Luna, “Stahley’s words exactly
were, ‘it could almost riot in the UNICOR
factory with the way Mr. Smith was
parading!’”34 Stahley sought to bar Smith
from the factory. Luna says, “The staff
were being lackadaisical .... [T]he Warden
had to make sure that we periodically
went down there and made sure that the
inmates and staff were wearing their personal protective equipment.”35
Affidavits from prisoners describe health
and safety training at the time. Prisoners
say that lead was the only toxic chemical
mentioned by prison staff, and one prisoner claims his hire group was not even
told about lead.36 One prisoner reported
that a prison staff member broke a tube
“without wearing a mask or respirator” in
front of his hire group, purportedly to
show that the contents of the tube was
“only air” and there was no risk of toxic
contamination.37 However, exposure to ewaste poses numerous health and environmental hazards, as shown in the body
burden image on the next page.

Health Administration (OSHA) standards,
prompting the first in what would be a
series of shutdowns of UNICOR’s Atwater
facility on July 1, 2002.

poisoning and that all the hoop
la about danger to us was being
exaggerated by 'tree huggers
and alarmists'—as [the UNICOR

Between June 2002 and June 2003, the

factory manager] refers to them.

Atwater facility failed at least six air quality tests; one test was conducted by a
hygienist from the BOP national office.
During this period, UNICOR and the
Atwater warden attempted to engineer
low-cost so-called solutions, refusing to
implement more expensive OSHA recommendations such as installing a shower
facility or separating the cafeteria from the
factory floor. A June 2005 BOP report
described this period as a “cycle of testing, shutting down, modification, opening, and re-testing” in UNICOR’s “learn as

And that the safety measures

you go” approach to complying with environmental regulations and worker health
and safety standards. 39 Unfortunately,
prisoners and staff were exposed to seri-

make prison life better or worse

ous hazards while UNICOR “learned.”
The report found that prisoners and staff

influence over us than the safety

in at least three UNICOR recycling facili-

as opportunities presented

ties—Atwater, Elkton, and Texarkana—
were exposed to toxics.

themselves. If the safety officer

implemented in terms of protect ing us from toxic airborne partic ulates were over-kill. [The facto ry manager]’s cavalier attitude
was absorbed by us and we
reflected that attitude... we
believed [the factory manager]
because his force of personality
was convincing if not threaten ing, and because we knew that
[the factory manager] could
with a few key strokes, or spo ken words. [The factory manag er] had far more power and
officers, and he made that clear

told us to do one thing and [the

The Bureau of Prisons claims that there is
no reason to believe Atwater prisoners or
staff have been exposed to toxics since

factory manager] told us to do

December 2003, when the glass-breaking
booth was relocated to vent outdoors.
BOP cites a series of tests in 2004 and
2005 that found no contamination above
an actionable level. Leroy Smith has chal-

[the factory manager] was well

something else we followed [the
factory manager]’s orders, and
aware of that and used that to
increase production."

Prisoner D

13 | HOW UNICOR RAN INTO TROUBLE WITH THE LAW

Selenium

FootNotes
1 http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts92.html
2 http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/docs/1994/102-6-7/
focus.html, and
http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts4.html
3 http://www.intox.org/databank/documents/
chemical/mercury/cie322.htm

Exposure to high concentrations causes
Selenosis, which can cause hair-loss, nail
brittleness, and neurological abnormalities
(i.e. numbness and other odd sensations in
the extremities).12

Beryllium
Exposure can cause lung cancer, and
chronic beryllium disease (beryllicosis)
(affects lungs).3

Mercury

4 http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/
recycle/ecycling/faq.htm

Exposure through ingestion or inhalation
can cause central nervous system damage
and kidney damage.9

5 http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HEC/CSEM/
arsenic/exposure_pathways.html

Chromium (IV) - Hexavalent
Chromium

6 http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts19.html
7 http://www.intox.org/databank/documents/
chemical/cadmium/ehc135.htm and
http://www.eco-usa.net/toxics/cadmium.shtml
8 http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/english/iyh/
environment/lead.html and
http://www.intox.org/databank/documents/
chemical/lead/ukpid25.htm
9 http://www.noharm.org/pvcDehp/dioxin and
http://www.bluevinyl.org/PVC.pdf
10 http://www.eco-usa.net/toxics/barium.shtml
11 Greenpeace, Recycling of Electronic Waste in
India and China, August 16, 2005.
http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/
international/press/reports/recyclingelectronicwasteindiachinafull.pdf
12 http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts17.html
andGreenpeace, Recycling of Electronic Waste in
India and China, August 16, 2005.
http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content
/international/press/reports/recyclingelectronicwasteindiachinafull.pdf
13 http://www.epa.gov/pbt/pubs/dioxins.htm

Exposure can cause strong allergic reaction (linked to Asthmatic Bronchitis) and
DNA damage to cells. Workers exposed at
disposal stage and may be released into
the environment from landfills and incineration.6

Arsenic
Long-term exposure may cause lung cancer, nerve damage and various skin diseases. Arsine gas (AsH3), used in tech
manufacturing, is the most toxic form of
arsenic.1

Trichloroethylene (TCE)
Exposure to TCE (depending on amount
and route) can cause, liver and kidney
damage, impaired immune system function, impaired fetal development or death.
Manufacturing workers and communities
where TCE leaches into drinking water are
at greatest risk.13

Cadmium
Long-term exposure can cause kidney
damage, and damage to bone structure,
also a known carcinogen. Short term or
acute exposure can cause weakness,
fever, headache, chills, sweating and muscle pain.5

Lead
Exposure can cause brain damage, nervous damage, blood disorders, kidney damage and developmental damage to fetus.
Children are especially vulnerable. Acute
exposure can cause vomiting, diarrhea,
convulsions, coma or death.8

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
Most widely-used plastic, found in everyday electronics. When burned produces
large quantities of hydrogen chloride gas,
which combines with water to form
hydrochloric acid (HCl). Inhaling HCl can
cause respiratory problems. Production
and incineration of PVC creates dioxins.11

Barium
Exposure may lead to brain swelling, muscle weakness, damage to heart, liver and
spleen, or increased blood pressure.2

Brominated flame retardants
(BFR’s)
Suspected of hormonal interference (damage to growth and sexual development), and
reproductive harm. Used to make materials
more flame resistant, but exposure studies
reveal BFRs in breast milk, and blood of
electronics workers, among others.4

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Toxic effects of PCBs include immune suppression, liver damage, cancer promotion,
nervous damage, reproductive damage
(both male and female) and behavioral
changes. Widely used (prior to 1980) in
transformers and capacitors. Though
banned in many countries, still present in
e-waste.10

Dioxins and Furans
Exposure can cause hormonal disruptions,
damage to fetus, reproductive harm, and
impairment of immune system. These highly toxic compounds bio-accumulate (concentrate in the body) and persist in the
environment.7

15 | HOW UNICOR RAN INTO TROUBLE WITH THE LAW

lenged the validity of this testing.
Referring to three lines doing disassembly
of CRTs—each of which can contain
many pounds of lead— Smith noted,
“[There’s] one small problem [with these
tests]: the three production lines were not
disassembling CRTs at the time.”40

safety hazards by the Atwater prison warden and BOP assistant safety administrator.44 Smith’s complaints were based on
his observations between April 2002,
when Atwater’s facility opened, and 2005.
His story initiated a series of legal proceedings, hearings, and investigations by
BOP and the Office of Special Counsel to

“[T]here is the issue of being
denied any Material Safety Data
Sheet information regarding all
or most of the hazardous materi als that may be or are present in
the items being recycled. I and
other inmates asked for such
information, but each time we
did we were given the implied
threat that, 'This job is a volun tary one. If you are not happy
here, you can quit,' meaning,
'Shut up. Don't ask us for any thing. Do your job, or we'll
replace you by pushing you out
or forcibly retiring you.'...Of the
material safety data sheets
made available to us, most are
for the cleaning/janitorial sup plies, NOT for all of the chemi cals or heavy metals found in
the monitors and/or other com puter componentry. We are
being told that we are not being

The suggestion that UNICOR manipulated work procedures to pass environmental
tests is consistent with prisoner affidavits
received by Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition, which describe a pattern of
clean-ups before pre-announced inspections and instructions to work slowly on
inspection days.
UNICOR claimed a clean bill of health,
citing, for instance, a June 2003 California
EPA Department of Toxic Substances
Control statement that no violations were
found at the Atwater facility.41 However,
under questioning by Smith’s attorney
Mary Dryovage, Assistant Safety
Administrator for the BOP’s Western
Region Dave Clements confirmed
Dryovage’s contention that “This document doesn’t state here that the glass
breaking operation is in compliance with
the state EPA requirements, let alone the
federal EPA requirements.”42 According to
Clements, the EPA inspector did no air
testing, but simply checked to make sure
that UNICOR had completed paperwork
required by the California EPA, met with
Atwater UNICOR Manager Stahley, Leroy
Smith, and Smith’s supervisor Associate
Warden Alan Booth, and left.

lied to.”

In March 2005, Leroy Smith went public
with reports that UNICOR was repeatedly
exposing staff and prisoners to toxic
chemicals and that he sought whistleblower protection.43 The month before,

Prisoner A

Smith’s co-worker Phil Rodriguez protested the rewriting of his report on UNICOR

unnecessarily exposed to any
harmful materials, but I, for one,
know otherwise. We ARE being

determine whether any laws, rules, or regulations were violated.

Special Counsel
Becomes Involved
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC)
is an independent federal agency that
seeks to protect federal employees from
prohibited workplace practices, especially
reprisal for whistleblowing.45 The Special
Counsel is Scott J. Bloch, nominated by
President Bush and unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2003.46
In April 2006, Special Counsel Bloch concurred with “Mr. Smith’s recommendation
of an independent investigation not subject to the supervision of BOP management” to determine “past and present dangers in FPI [UNICOR]’s computer recycling facilities and ... appropriate remedial
measures for staff and inmate workers
who may have been exposed.” 47 He ruled
the BOP’s findings “unreasonable,” many
of them “inconsistent with available evidence” and “cursory at best.”48
Director of Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Jeff
Ruch also criticized the BOP’s 2005
report, arguing, “In this report, the
Federal Bureau of Prisons insists that the
problems it initially had vehemently
denied now have been magically resolved
by the same managers who created them
in the first place.”49 PEER later noted that

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 16

Smith’s allegations remain under-examined, among them, that “UNICOR never
properly informed staff and inmates of the
hazards associated with the CPUs or CRTs
nor provided them adequate training from
1994 through 2005.”50 An audit by the
Department of Justice is underway.

“When the glass breaking room

The Special Counsel’s findings drew
national media coverage.51 They also
renewed guards’ interest in filing claims,
grievances, and litigation, and there are a
growing number of official complaints
against UNICOR. For example, Charlie
Carter, a prison guard who helped to open
UNICOR’s recycling factory at the Elkton,

was operating, shiny pieces of

Ohio federal prison, now believes his
health problems may be attributable to his
work there. The Atwater prison guards’
union also has filed a grievance.

one was smoking [it was strictly

UNICOR’s public response has been to

of flakes that floated around me

object to the Special Counsel’s report and
to maintain videos on its website proclaiming UNICOR as a “true green solu-

when I broke tubes with my

tion” to e-waste. UNICOR’s claim is flatly
contradicted by its refusal to acknowledge
its own toxic legacy, even in accordance
with the limited findings of the BOP
investigation.

Prisoner K

metal were floating in the air all
around the factory. No matter
where I went in there these
small flakes were floating
around. I thought it was ciga rette ash at first, but then I
thought about it and realized no
forbidden] and I captured the
flakes in my hand to look at
them. They were the same kind

hammer.”

“During the normal course of
operations in this factory finely
milled [particulates] are spewed
into the factory air. No air sam ples are being taken of the main
warehouse, and no safety pre cautions are being taken to alle viate the hazards to workers.
Federally mandated material
data safety sheets for the above
chemicals are not available for
review .... [S]omeone needs to
be informed of this. The health of
hundreds of workers is being
imperilled.”
Prisoner B

UNICOR: THE PROBLEM OF FEDERAL PRISON INDUSTRIES| 18

III.
UNICOR: THE PROBLEM OF
FEDERAL PRISON INDUSTRIES

A Cure for Idleness:
the Development of UNICOR
From the beginning, prison industries
have been highly contentious. Prisoner
idleness was seen as a threat to the security of penal institutions, and prison industries developed in response to the problem of locking people away with nothing
for them to do.63 In 1918 and 1924,
Congress appropriated funds to open factories at the Atlanta Penitentiary and
Leavenworth, respectively. According to
prison historian Paul Keve, “Both manu-

facturers and labor unions opposed
prison-made products, especially during
the depression years.”64 The HawesCooper Act and the Ashurst-Sumners Act
“divested prison-made products of their
status in interstate commerce and encouraged states to prohibit their
entry...exert[ing] an enormously depressing effect on industries in state and federal prisons.”65
Federal Prison Industries (FPI) was
founded in 1934 with over $4 million in
assets. “Emerging at a time when opposition to prison industries was strong,” FPI

19 | UNICOR: THE PROBLEM OF FEDERAL PRISON INDUSTRIES

FEDERAL PRISON INDUSTRIES TIMELINE
1934. Federal Prison Industries (FPI) is

1979. UNICOR grows to 81 factories in

founded with over $4 million in assets.52

37 institutions.58

1945. FPI has net assets of

1988. Congress authorizes UNICOR to

1959.

borrow $20 million from the U.S.
Treasury. This loan is allocated for construction to keep pace with the rising federal prison population.59

more than
$23 million; war-related products were
the primary source of growth.53
FPI net assets begin to rise above
World War II peak.54

1968. While the federal prison population had declined by approximately 2000
people over the previous decade, the
number of prisoners employed by FPI
increases, and net assets rise to $56.1 million.55

1974. FPI undergoes a corporate reorganization and creates seven product divisions: automated data processing, electronics, graphics, metals, shoe and brush,
textiles (the largest), and wood and plastics.56

1977.

Federal Prison Industries begins to
do business as “UNICOR.”57

1991: A study “could not find a single
product under FPI’s current authority that
would provide a significant number of
additional inmate employment opportunities without negatively affecting private
business and labor.”60

1994. UNICOR opens its first e-waste
recycling factory at the federal prison in
Marianna, FL.61

2005. UNICOR has 106 factories located
at 73 prisons with almost 20,000 prison
laborers including 7 e-waste recycling
facilities.62

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 20

was designed to withstand business and
labor complaints.66 FPI was mandated to
diversify its product line in order to minimize its impact on each industry and its
board included labor and business representatives. A government-owned corporation, FPI operates under the authority of
the Department of Justice and the Bureau
of Prisons (BOP). In 1977, Federal Prison
Industries began to do business under the
trade name UNICOR.67
UNICOR tries to employ as many prisoners as possible. The corporation’s Board
of Directors wrote in 1993, “FPI is not a
competitive business; rather, it is a management tool that the BOP relies on to
control its overcrowded facilities.”68
During the 1980s and 1990s, the “War on
Drugs” and “Tough on Crime” policies
swelled the ranks of the federal prison
population and the assets of UNICOR,
which grew from $112 million in 1980 to
over $383 million in 1996.69 Growing
from 52 factories at 23 prison “institutions” in 1975 to 103 factories at 68 institutions in 2000, 70 UNICOR tried to keep
pace with the federal prison population,
which almost quadrupled from 24,000 in
1980 to almost 95,000 in 1996, disproportionately impacting poor people and
people of color.71 Recent statistics indicate
that approximately one in three black
men will spend some time in prison.72
Including state prisons and local jails, the
U.S. has a total of over two million prisoners.73
As UNICOR grew, business and labor concerns resurfaced. UNICOR benefited from
preferential procurement policies for
decades. Sole source rules essentially
required government agencies to purchase
goods from FPI, giving it a strategic
advantage over its domestic competitors.

Despite its mandate to minimize its effect
on industry, UNICOR reported in 1991
that a study “could not find a single product under FPI’s current authority that
would provide a significant number of
additional inmate employment opportunities without negatively affecting private
business and labor.”74 Business and labor
both fought for over a decade to force
UNICOR to give up the sole source
requirement that guaranteed it a federal

UNICOR’s sales are significantly
dependent upon militarization.
Sales skyrocketed during World
War II for example.

21 | UNICOR: THE PROBLEM OF FEDERAL PRISON INDUSTRIES

agency market. Conservative Republican
Congressman Pete Hoekstra, prompted by
small and mid-sized furniture manufacturers in his Michigan district, conducted
fiery Congressional hearings into UNICOR. Furniture manufacturers argued
they had been devastated by UNICOR’s
ability to underbid them and to secure
government procurement contracts.
While UNICOR howled at the beginning
of the 1990s that it could not survive
without sole sourcing, UNICOR later
accepted the possibility of giving it up. In
recent years, Congress has passed budget
language allowing federal agencies to contract with the best available bidder while
groups such as the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce have continued to push for
fundamental reform that would strip sole
sourcing from UNICOR’s statutory
authority.75 Meanwhile, UNICOR has pursued a number of other strategies, including expanding into services, “repatriating”
work from sweatshops abroad, and seeking alleged “‘expanding pie’ situations
where the total domestic market, including both the commercial and the federal
market, has growth opportunities [that]
allow simultaneous growth by both UNICOR and the private sector.”76 It was in
this context that UNICOR entered the ewaste recycling business.
Production demands during
military actions mean that
each prisoner is required to
produce more and more.

GOVERNMENT SWEATSHOPS: AS CHEAP AS EXPORT DUMPING | 22

IV.
GOVERNMENT SWEATSHOPS:
AS CHEAP AS EXPORT DUMPING

The 1961 FPI Annual Report features a
photo spread titled, “Rebuilding Men with
an Electronics Industry.”77 The photographs show men soldering and assembling cables, usually without gloves, eye,
ear, or lung protection. A decade later, in
1972, FPI stated, “We are making a concerted effort in each of our industrial locations to comply with the new
Occupational Safety and Health Act
requirements.”78

UNICOR is effectively a government
sweatshop for handling electronic waste.
Like sweatshop workers in other countries, prisoners live and work within the
control of the facility, do not have the
right to organize or improve working conditions, and have few, if any, other
options. By paying pennies more than
other work available in the prison, UNICOR ensures itself a steady stream of
“volunteers.” Similar conditions drive

23 | GOVERNMENT SWEATSHOPS: AS CHEAP AS EXPORT DUMPING

“Now, you might be asking 'why'
I would continue to work in this
glass department knowing I had
been poisoned. The reasons are
simple. UNICOR pay is the best
you can get here... Also I have
restitution the court has ordered
me to pay. So you see for every
dollar UNICOR pays me they
automatically take a dollar. I
earn $100 they take $50. I live on
$50 a month, soap, shampoo,
toothpaste.... wham, and it’s
gone. Prison is not a good place
to be without even a modest
amount of $$$! UNICOR exploits
this; they always tell us you
want to complain about the work
conditions, quit, it’s an all volun teer work force, nobody is
forced to work in UNICOR. They
say to me there are [hundreds]
of people on the waiting list to
take your place. I truly believe
my 'cause of action' lies in the
fact that UNICOR opened this ewaste recycling facility knowing
the dangers of processing CRTs
and other waste, and having us
inmates doing it in such a haz ardous way that a lot of us have
been poisoned, injured by lacer ations, and God only knows
what the long-term effects are
going to be on us.”
—Prisoner D

Increases in production per
inmate far outweigh changes
in wages.

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 24

people from poor communities in countries such as India and China into the ewaste business and force people to make
the unacceptable choice of working in
places that poorly protect their health and
human rights.79
Prisoners are excluded from protections

tion’s Board of Directors wrote:
Every inmate who can, must
work.... The federal prison system’s
continued success in managing
extremely overcrowded prisons is
based on the ability to keep
inmates productively busy.83

other U.S. workers enjoy. The Thirteenth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has
a specific exemption for people convicted
of a crime; it 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.”80
Prison administrators take this exemption
seriously. In a 1936 lesson plan for prison
staff, James V. Bennett, the BOP’s
Commissioner of Industries, explained:
When slavery was abolished in
America through the adoption of
the 13th Amendment a specific
exception was made in the case of
the criminal.… [T]he drafters of
this amendment … obviously had
in mind the long recognized principle that the state had a property
right in the labor of its prisoners. A
sentence to ‘hard labor’ was and
still is imposed because it carries
with it the idea that labor was
punitive and helped deter crime.81
Bennett was promoted to Director of the
Bureau of Prisons in 1937, and he
remained there until 1964. More recent
managers express a similar attitude.
While serving as Attorney General in the
first Bush Administration, Dick
Thornburgh referred to “the Bureau’s
long-standing policy of mandatory work
for able-bodied inmates.”82 The corpora-

Sweatshop workers are sometimes forced
to work to pay debts. Similarly, prisoners
often need to earn money to pay courtordered fines and fees. Many prisoners do
not pocket their full wages. UNICOR
mandates that 50% of the wages be used
to pay for court-ordered fines and fees,
victim restitution, or child support.84
Prisoners also work to earn income to
purchase essential items from the commissary.85
UNICOR attracts prisoners by paying
slightly more than other available work
programs, a tactic used in sweatshops
around the world. Incarcerated people
working in prison maintenance can
expect to make between $0.12 and $0.40
per hour.86 UNICOR’s pay scale goes from
$0.23 to $1.15 per hour. Higher wages
make UNICOR jobs more appealing to
prisoners, but these wages are obviously
lower than those paid by private sector
recyclers.
Like other sweatshops, UNICOR seems to
rely upon the expectation that voicing
concern for health and safety, workplace
protections, and the environment will be
met with retaliation.

“The next week [Prisoner 1] and
the man next to him were
removed from the cage where I
worked. Later I noticed [Prisoner
1] was cleaning the men’s room,
and the man who worked next to
[him], who had also talked with
the man from Washington D.C.
was sweeping floors. They had
both been retaliated against for
whistle blowing…. [Prisoner 1]
washed the warehouse walls,
and had been told to use only his
left hand, and that if he used his
right hand he would be infracted
and placed in the hole. [Prisoner
1] was being messed with by
UNICOR staff for talking with the
man from Washington about
safety issues. [Prisoner 1] told

UNICOR’s “Repatriation”
Is Not Job Training
UNICOR has implicitly compared its factories to global sweatshops. “One way to

me that the factory was being
operated in a very unsafe man ner, and I listened to him...”
—Prisoner K

25 | GOVERNMENT SWEATSHOPS: AS CHEAP AS EXPORT DUMPING

avoid adverse impact on private sector
workers,” the company mused in 2000,
“is to have inmates perform tasks that

informal sector.91 In effect, prisoners are
being trained for work in sweatshops.
Instead of decreasing the quality of

cannot be economically performed
domestically; i.e., providing products or
services currently imported or provided
by foreign countries.”87 UNICOR defend-

domestic recycling to compete with
sweatshops in order to “repatriate” work,
the U.S. should be raising the bar internationally and domestically to provide safer

ers call this strategy “repatriation” of

conditions for workers, communities, and

work and imply that utilizing prison labor

the environment.

will help create post-release jobs in the
“The monitors we were breaking

private economy. But the company has

down were brought into the

noted that repatriation “conflicts with

glass department on pallets with

[UNICOR’s] mandate of teaching mar-

approximately 35 to 40 [CRTs] of

ketable skills... since they will be in oper-

various sizes [stripped of plastic
housing] on the pallets.... My job
this first day is to unload the
monitors off the pallets onto a
long table. The next step in the
process was to use a small ham mer, and hit the (gun) part of the
monitor. That is the very back
piece of the monitor. Once that
piece was removed thrown in a
box then the monitor was ready
to be placed on a plastic chair
that was down inside a large
Gaylord cardboard box. The
monitor was sat down on top of
the chair then another guy

ations not currently performed in the
U.S.”88
Several years earlier, UNICOR noted, “In
contrast to the automation, technology,
and equipment used for rapid production
in private sector shops, factories, and
plants, Federal Prison Industries must use
labor-intensive methods of operation to
keep the largest possible number of
inmates in productive work programs.”89
In statements to Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition, prisoners have described using
hammers to smash leaded monitor glass
and being told to make their own tools or
to use provided tools in inappropriate
ways. This increases the risk of toxic
exposure and injury.

would lean over into the box,
and smash the glass down until
the glass was broke down.
When this monitor glass was
being smashed with the small
hammer this ash looking stuff
(grey) would fly up into the face
of the guy leaning over the box.
This stuff would fly everywhere!
It was all over everyone working
in there.”
—Prisoner D

Researcher Dr. Gary Martin observed,
“[UNICOR’s prisoner] idleness-combating
function...can be seen as in conflict with
preparation for work outside. UNICOR
has a built-in excuse not to modernize
with the latest labor-saving techniques....
In other words, it has little incentive to
provide the sort of work experience that
is transferable to the U.S. industrial sector
as it exists in the 1990s....”90 UNICOR
tools and methods most resemble those of
poorly protected migrant workers in the

E-WASTE, ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, AND THE EPA | 26

V.
E-WASTE, ENVIRONMENTAL
JUSTICE, AND THE EPA
Environmental Justice (EJ) is grounded in
the simple assertion that all people and
communities have the right to a healthy
environment where they live, work, learn,
and play.92 The modern EJ movement first

the inset for an EJ timeline that highlights
connections between environmental justice and the prisoner rights and antiprison movement.

drew national attention in 1982 when residents of rural, predominantly AfricanAmerican Warren County, North Carolina

Environmental justice gained federal
recognition in 1994, the year that UNICOR began to recycle e-waste.
Presidential Executive Order 12898 man-

refused to accept the siting of a polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfill in their
community. Today, there are thousands of
grassroots, community-based efforts fighting for a healthy environment and against
disproportionate pollution of poor communities and communities of color. See

dated that all federal agencies incorporate
an EJ framework into their operations.93
The Executive Order added an important
tool to the strategic arsenal of grassroots
movements across the U.S. and around
the world.

27 | E-WASTE, ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, AND THE EPA

KEY MOMENTS IN THE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT

94

1982. Residents of Warren County in

1998. EPA issues Interim Guidance for
Investigating Title VI Administrative
Permits Challenging Permits.

North Carolina protest the siting of a
polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfill in
their community. Dr. Benjamin Chavis of
the NAACP coins the term “environmental racism” during the protests. Today, the
Warren County events are recognized by
many as foundational to the modern environmental justice movement.

brings together anti-prison and environmental justice movements through its
campaign on the environmental impacts
of prison construction and operation.96

1987.

2001. Joining Forces: Environmental

United Church of Christ
Commission for Racial Justice publishes
“Toxic Wastes and Race in the United
States.”95 The report is the first national
study to correlate race and the siting of
waste facilities. One of its major findings
is that race is a stronger predictor of the
siting of hazardous waste facilities than
either income or housing value.

1991. The First National People of Color
Environmental Leadership Summit was
held in Washington, DC, attracting over
1,000 participants. The Principles of
Environmental Justice are defined at the
summit.

1994.

February: President Bill Clinton
issues Executive Order 12989, “Federal
Actions to Address Environmental Justice
in Minority Populations and Low-Income
Populations.”

2000 - to the present. Critical Resistance

Justice and the Fight Against Prison
Expansion conference is held in Fresno,
California.

2002. Second National People of Color
Environmental Leadership Summit convened in Washington, DC. The Principles
of the Youth Environmental Justice
Movement, Principles of Working
Together, and Principles of Collaboration
are developed at the summit, known
throughout the movement as “Summit II.”

2003: AXT, Inc closes its semiconductor
plant in Fremont, California under pressure from environmental justice and
social justice organizations.97

2005. The Prison Moratorium Project
integrates environmental justice into the
curriculum for its internship program.98

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 28

Prisoners Are an Environmental
Justice Community of Concern

Prisoners know that something is wrong
when they blow their nose and their
mucus is black, when work means shards

Seventeen principles of environmental
justice were adopted in 1991 at the First
National People of Color Environmental

of glass lodged permanently in their
hands or causing gruesome cuts, and
when the electronics they are dismantling
carry tags warning, “This product con-

Leadership Summit. Several principles
are particularly relevant to UNICOR’s
recycling programs.

tains lead in solder and certain electrical
parts which are known...to cause cancer,
birth defects, or other reproductive

EJ Principle: “Environmental justice
affirms the right of all workers to a safe
and healthy work environment, without

harm.” However, prisoners’ efforts to

being forced to choose between an unsafe
livelihood and unemployment. It also
affirms the right of those who work at
home to be free from environmental hazards.”99

severely curtailed by the prison and may

UNICOR’s prisoner workers are a captive
labor force on a high-tech chain-gang.
They are insufficiently protected by the
Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA); inspectors are
not at liberty to do unannounced inspections at UNICOR facilities, one of their
most basic tools of enforcement.100
Prisoners are completely outside the Fair
Labor Standards Act.101 Unlike prison
guards, prisoners are not considered
employees, are not allowed to organize,
and are not protected against retaliatory
acts by bosses under labor law. When
prisoners question UNICOR’s health and
safety practices, they fear being fired,
punished, or moved to another prison—
all of which has been detailed in statements received by Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition.
EJ Principle: “Environmental justice protects the right of victims of environmental
injustice to receive full compensation and
reparations for damages as well as quality
health care.”102

obtain quality information on the risks
and to educate themselves and others are
subject them to retaliation.
Prisoners are particularly vulnerable
because their ability to seek recourse is
limited. In the 1980s and 1990s, prisoners’ rights were eroded by a series of new
laws and Supreme Court rulings that
denied prisoners the right to form labor
unions, limited prisoners’ ability to sue,
and required prisoners to prove not just
that “the totality of circumstances” of
prison conditions was cruel and unusual
punishment, but that prison officials acted
with “deliberate indifference” to their
needs.103 It is difficult for prisoners to
make their voices heard.

“Prisoners were receiving litera ture about all the toxic material
in the computers and the com puter monitors, and they were
sharing it. When prisoners left
these reports on the bulletin
boards in the living units, the
counselors and case managers

EJ Principle: “Environmental justice considers governmental acts of environmental
injustice a violation of international law,
the Universal Declaration on Human
Rights, and the United Nations
Convention on Genocide.”104

ripped them down and threat -

Federal Executive Order 12898 requires
all federal agencies (including the Bureau
of Prisons) to identify and address, as
appropriate, disproportionately high and
adverse human health or environmental
effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and lowincome populations in the United States and

hundreds of pallets with no pro -

ened to infract anyone caught
posting the educational litera ture. We were beginning to col lectively fear for our safety as
we recalled how we shattered
tection afforded us—and that
we had been told that we were
safe and that we had believed
them.”
—Prisoner D

29 | E-WASTE, ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, AND THE EPA

its territories. Over 70% of the people in
the federal prison system are people of
color.105 Using federal prisoners to recycle

another Executive Order (12873) in making “environmental concerns…key factors
in federal customers’ purchasing deci-

and disassemble hazardous electronic
waste exemplifies the type of environmental discrimination the Executive Order
was designed to prevent.

sions, specifically, whether FPI products
were ‘environmentally preferrable.’”109
This suggests that incorporating environmental justice concerns into environmentally preferrable purchasing guidelines is

EPEAT Rejected Banning
Use of Prison Labor
“Even when I wear the paper
masks, I blow out black mucus from
my nose every day…. The black
particles in my nose and throat look
as if I am a heavy smoker who
works uncovered in a coal mine and
who just made it through a house
fire inhalation.... Cuts and abrasions
happen all the time. Of these, the
open wounds are exposed to the dirt
and dust, and many do not heal as
quickly as normal wounds. I and
other inmates have noticed
increased sinus problems, scratchy
throats, headaches, unexplained
fatigue, and burning skin, eyes,
noses, and throats.... We can get
bandages, but all we get to clean an
injured area with is cold water and
20 mule team Boraxo soap.”
—Prisoner A
“We was getting showers of glass
and the whole chemicals out of the
tube. We was cutting ourselves. I
only went to the hospital twice, but
one of them was a serious injury...
They even took pictures of it at the
hospital.”
—Prisoner C

Despite the Executive Order, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency recently
oversaw the development of the
Electronic Product Environmental
Assessment Tool (EPEAT), which completely fails to incorporate environmental
justice considerations. EPEAT is a procurement tool to help public and private
sector institutional purchasers evaluate
computer equipment.106 The tool includes
fifty-one environmental criteria. Although
criteria that would prohibit prison labor
and address worker safety and health were
proposed, these criteria were rejected.
EPEAT notes that “a primary consideration was that federal agency representatives reported that if this criterion [on
prison labor] was included, it would
make it difficult, or perhaps impossible,
for federal agencies to use EPEAT,”107 citing preferential contracting rules with
UNICOR although it is not clear whether
these rules truly apply here. EPEAT references the EPA Plug-In To E-cycling
Guidelines, a short document which

essential, and that the contract decisions
of institutions and individual consumers
can make a real difference for worker and
community health and safety. Prison
labor must be directly addressed as a substantial threat to responsible recycling and
refurbishing operations and to the health
of workers and the environment. The
Computer TakeBack Campaign will issue
procurement guidelines that include
worker health and safety and labor standards in fall 2006. The Development
Team for EPEAT has “noted that prison
labor in recycling programs may be considered for future EPEAT versions.”110

A Long Toxic Legacy Creates
Costs for Everyone
Prisoners with long sentences are more
likely to be assigned to UNICOR. This
reduces worker turnover, improving factory efficiency, but it also means workers’
exposures to toxic chemicals are sustained
over a longer period of time, increasing
their chances of bioaccumulating hazardous levels of toxics.

focuses specifically on evaluating e-waste
facilities.108 Prison labor is a significant
and growing part of the U.S. e-waste man-

When released from prison, prisoners
bring their health issues home with them.
The insidious nature of toxic exposure is

agement industry, but both these guidelines fail to mention prison labor.

that it often goes unnoticed or unreported
until serious health complications appear.
At that point, families and communities
are left to figure out the cause of the dis-

In its 1997 Annual Report, UNICOR’s
ombudsman noted the importance of

ease and to deal with the aftermath.

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 30

Unfortunately, workers in prison, both
captive workers and guards, are not given
adequate access to information about, or
protection from, the many potentially
hazardous materials they come in contact
with. The rise in complaints logged by
prison guards at Marianna, Florida;
Elkton, Ohio; and Atwater, California
raise questions and concerns about conditions for prisoners inside.111
Stories emerging from UNICOR recycling
factories suggest UNICOR fell far short of
its 1972 goal of “set[ting safety] standards
in our industrial operations which can be
used as an example for other federal agencies and commercial concerns.”112 Prisoner
D, who experienced a disfiguring injury,
writes, “I asked about filing a claim for
redress, and the safety manager gave me a
pamphlet saying I couldn’t file a workers
compensation claim until I was 45 days
from my release date which is [many
years away]!” The implication that UNICOR will not bear the full cost of workplace injuries because its captive workers
are essentially locked away, beyond effective oversight by OSHA, and without adequate access to redress for injuries and the
long-term effects of toxic exposure is
unacceptable. Special Counsel Scott
Bloch stated, “The Bureau of Prisons took
a technical view of the health risks and
essentially acted as if actual harm would
have to occur before they would make
safety changes. I hope you will agree with
both Leroy Smith and [the Office of
Special Counsel] that the standard for
safety should be a little higher than
that.”113 Reducing toxic exposures, and
thus preventing disease, can benefit prisoners, prison staff, communities, and taxpayers. It is responsible social policy.

ALTERNATIVES: RESPONSIBLE ELECTRONICS RECYCLING | 32

VI.
ALTERNATIVES: RESPONSIBLE
ELECTRONICS RECYCLING
The Pledge of True Stewardship
for Electronics Recyclers
Comparing the commercial electronics
recycling sector and UNICOR yields
insights into the problems posed by
prison recycling. Global Investment
Recovery (GIR) provides an excellent
example of private small business e-waste
recycling. GIR adheres closely to environmental regulations and standards, has
been recognized by the EPA as a responsible, environmentally-friendly electronics

recycler, and has signed the Basel Action
Network Pledge of True Stewardship for
Electronics Recyclers.114 The Pledge is a
useful indicator of the depth of GIR’s
commitment to environmental and social
responsibility because signatories agree to
not export, landfill, incinerate, or send to
prisons any hazardous materials. This
eliminates several “short-cuts” to profit
from prison labor, export dumping, or
incineration of e-waste.
GIR’s founder and CEO, David Ritter, is a
strong advocate of small business compe-

33 | ALTERNATIVES: RESPONSIBLE ELECTRONICS RECYCLING

tition for government contracts, environmental compliance, and worker rights.
GIR’s corporate policies require both

the justification by management for denying workers proper tools and health and
safety information.

employees and contractors to strictly
adhere to environmental regulations and
GIR provides training for employees. GIR
also stays in dialogue with regulatory bod-

Security constraints put workers and staff
at greater risk for toxic exposure.
Materials are handled up to three times

ies and customers to improve its environmental management. Pollution prevention is explicitly included in GIR’s corporate planning and decision-making.115
In contrast, UNICOR has a “no landfill”
policy for electronic materials,116 but
exporting waste is considered acceptable.
UNICOR’s stated “restrictive export policy” is motivated by national security concerns, not protecting people’s health and
safety. Its certification process requires
vendors to pledge not to ship materials to
countries considered state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, Syria, and North
Korea and not to use products to aid the
development of weapons of mass destruction.117 The policy says nothing about
restricting e-waste exports to countries
like China, India, the Philippines, or
Nigeria, which receive a heavy toxic burden of obsolete electronics.118

Workers’ Rights Are the First
Line of Defense
Many private sector electronics recyclers
understand that a well-paid, well-trained
workforce is a safer, more committed
workforce. These recyclers provide the
best available technologies and abide by
worker health and safety policies. In contrast, UNICOR’s captive labor model prioritizes security while protecting health
and the environment takes a back seat.
Security is both the reason why UNICOR
exists (to keep prisoners occupied) and

more than at private sector facilities in the
packing and unpacking processes alone.119
The use of inadequate tools also increases
the risk of exposure.120 Years after Silicon
Valley Toxics Coalition began receiving
affidavits from prisoners detailing the
improper use of tools, BOP National
Hygienist Matthew Korbelak documented
the following:
I observed, and numerous workers
reported, the improper use of tools
and techniques due to the lack of
appropriate tools to more safely
dismantle monitors. Specifically,
security screws in some monitors
had to be broken out because no
tip was available (these screws and
tips are not the type used in the
institution). Another type of monitor had deep set screws and the
screw drivers could not reach
them. Forced breaking of monitor
housing when an easier dismantling
is an option increases the potential
for injuries and [the need for] the
use of additional personal protective
equipment. It is recommended that
the appropriate tools be provided
and used correctly to minimize the
hazards from dismantling monitors.”(italics added) 121
UNICOR claims its programs “rehabilitate” those in prison and provide valuable
work experience they can use upon
release. Yet the methods used in
UNICOR’s e-waste recycling programs rely
upon force, rather than skills applicable to
recycling operations outside prison walls.

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 34

Clean, Secure, and Efficient
Demanufacturing Processes
GIR’s processes include both manual and
automated demanufacturing. A manual
tear- down line recovers reusable components. According to GIR, proper manual
recovery also ensures proper removal of
hazardous waste. Metals are separated
from components and grouped according
to type, then sent through GIR’s automated shredding and separation systems,
which prevents excessive worker exposure
to toxic materials. Further, GIR’s combination of manual disassembly with dual
shredding and separation systems ensures
complete destruction and proper recycling
of electronic equipment. Due to the
importance of data security in electronic
recycling, GIR maintains high security,
limited-access facilities that meet strict
standards for government and corporate
contracts.
By contrast, UNICOR’s website states its
“program is a labor-intensive program, so
there are few capital machinery and
equipment expenses, which keeps costs
down.”122 In 2000, then-Board Chairman
Joseph Aragon explained to Congress, “In
the private sector, if I own a factory that
manufactures textiles, my interest is going
to be in making sure that I can get maximum production from one person.... In
prisons, we downplay that so we can
employ more people. Our technology in
prisons is often much older as it was generations ago in the private sector.”123
Small businesses like GIR have set a high
standard of technical performance with
regard to methods of demanufacture,
employee training, environmental and
human health protection, and data
destruction that UNICOR’s labor-intensive
methods based on exploiting captive
workers simply cannot meet.

“I've witnessed several inmates
lacerate themselves. Some of
them never come back to UNICOR; many are hospitalized.
Virtually every injury is caused
by broken Cathode Ray Tubes.
The tubes get broken because
several of the screws require an
extension to reach them but we
don't have an extension in our
tool kits.... Therefore the mini
ballpeen hammer is used to
bash the monitors apart, and as
one might guess CRTs are shattered periodically.”
—Prisoner B

UNDERCUTTING RESPONSIBLE RECYCLERS | 36

VII.
UNDERCUTTING RESPONSIBLE
RECYCLERS

By competing for government and private
contracts to manage electronic waste,
UNICOR undercuts responsible recyclers
through ultra-cheap labor and the special
privileges and inside connections afforded
by its quasi-governmental status. UNICOR was intended to be self-sustaining;
for instance, an annual report claims that
“UNICOR receives no appropriated funds.
All expenses for its operations are paid
from revenue generated by sales to federal

agencies.”124 However, there is evidence of
expenses subsidized by taxpayers. U.S.
General Accounting Office125 and UNICOR reports issued in the 1990s indicate
that the Bureau of Prisons invested tens of
millions of dollars in building construction and improvements for UNICOR.126
Researcher Dr. Gary Martin testified to
Congress, “the Federal Bureau of Prisons
provides UNICOR its buildings and land
[and] utilities.”127 In 2006, the U.S.

37 | UNDERCUTTING RESPONSIBLE RECYCLERS

House Judiciary Committee added one
more to the list of taxpayer subsidies—
access to “[surplus] industrial equipment

and Asset Disposition (READ) services.133

without cost from other Departments and
agencies”—while noting that proposed
reform legislation“does not alter a broad
array of competitive advantages that FPI

these contracts are extremely valuable to
private small business recyclers.
Grossman reported, “A [2004] survey of
electronics recyclers in the U.S. and

enjoys with respect to private sector

Canada found that 70% of these compa-

firms.”128

nies had less than 49 employees and that

Although READ comprises a very small
share of federal electronics spending,

over half had less than than 25”, whereas

“We were told that a guy would
be coming in to do some tests.
The day before we cleaned up
real good. The foreman [a prison
employee] told us these tests
were very important, and he told
us to slow the process way
down. He said he didn’t care if
we processed 1/2 of our normal
output, just to take our time, and

Subsidies and low labor costs enable UNICOR to underbid conscientious commercial recycling operations. In 1998, UNICOR welcomed a study by the Inspector
General for the Department of Defense
which found that “for nearly 80% of procurements, UNICOR’s prices were lower

UNICOR’s recycling operations employed

than those provided by the private sector
for identical products.”129 Reporter
Elizabeth Grossman has described one
Pennsylvania case in which the UNICOR
bid was approximately one-quarter of
those from commercial recyclers.130 Some
contractors who received bids from the
UNICOR recycling program have told
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition that UNI-

shared with UNICOR the distinction of
being named one of just eight small busi-

COR bids were one-third to one-quarter
the price of private bidders.131 These low
bids come at the expense of captive prison
workers, and they hurt all workers by
driving down standards.

go slow…This [air quality] test I
witnessed and participated in
was absolutely manipulated
from start to finish. We had
changed, and put all new filters
in the air handler… We changed
our normal routine, slowed
everything way down, all took
our breaks together… The
orderlies “janitors” were told to
constantly be cleaning the day
of the tests.”
——Prisoner D

Despite its advantages, UNICOR has not
accepted that a small slice of the large federal pie should be set aside for small businesses and competes with them to win
contracts. According to the EPA, “[t]he
U.S. government buys seven percent of
the world’s computers. In fiscal year 2005
alone, EPA expects federal agencies to
spend almost $60 billion on information
technology equipment, software, infrastructure, and services.” 132 Nine million
dollars were set-aside for small businesses
through the EPA’s Recycling Electronics

nearly 1,000 prisoners at its seven factories in 2004.134
UNICOR submitted a bid for READ,
which was accepted in December 2004.
Initially, Global Investment Recovery

nesses awarded a government-wide acquisition contract (GWAC) for the EPA’s
Recycling Electronics and Asset
Disposition (READ) services. 135 GIR and
another recycler, Creative Recycling
Solutions Inc., successfully challenged
UNICOR’s contract.136 Ruling against
UNICOR, the Small Business
Administration (SBA) noted, “Besides
exceeding the applicable size standard,
FPI does not even qualify as a ‘business
concern’ eligible to bid on set asides for
small business concerns.”137 SBA’s letter of
their determination to the General
Manager of UNICOR’s Recycling Business
Group, Lawrence M. Novicky, warns of
“severe criminal penalties for knowingly
misrepresenting the small business size
status of a concern in connection with
procurement programs.”138 After this ruling, the federal Environmental Protection
Agency pulled its contract with UNICOR.
Government Executive magazine noted
that UNICOR had contracts worth over
$460 million with the Department of
Defense in 2005, and quoted Chris Jahn,

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 38

President of the Contract Services
Association, saying, “To consider them
somehow a small business just doesn’t
pass the straight face test.”139
David Ritter of Global Investment
Recovery told Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition, “Commercial recyclers lose significant amounts of business to UNICOR
every day because they have access to U.S.
Government Agencies that is denied to
commercial recyclers .... When UNICOR
misrepresented themselves as Small
Business for the EPA READ Contract,
their bid was 75% less than the legitimate
Small Business competitors who were
selected. This bid significantly undercut commercial recyclers in a manner that could be
viewed as predatory pricing in any industry.”140
In 2005, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
wrote:
Even with reform, FPI would still have an
enormous competitive advantage over the
private sector. FPI pays its inmates $.23$1.15 per hour and is not required to provide any employee benefits like Social
Security, unemployment compensation or
insurance. In addition, as a [g]overnmentowned corporation, FPI is exempt from
[f]ederal and state income taxes, gross
receipts taxes, excise tax and state and
local sales taxes on purchases. FPI does
not have to pay for utilities or equipment
and has a special statutory line-of-credit
from the U.S. Treasury for $20 million at
0% interest. FPI is also exempt from standards, inspections, or fines by various
[f]ederal, state or local enforcement agencies, such as OSHA, that regulate all private sector suppliers to the [f]ederal
[g]overnment.141

Responding to the E-Waste
Crisis: Making a Just Choice
The decisions public and private institutions make regarding whether to send
their e-waste to a responsible U.S. recycler
or to UNICOR affect the future health and
safety of communities worldwide. More
and more institutions are deciding to steer
clear of the Federal Prison Industries and
instead to promote a safe, clean, and
green domestic electronics recycling
industry.
Dell Inc. of Austin, Texas, the largest seller of personal computers, used UNICOR
to handle their e-waste recycling program
until pressure from the Computer
TakeBack Campaign (CTBC) and Silicon
Valley Toxics Coalition exposed the practice. Activists from CTBC affiliate Texas
Campaign for the Environment dressed in
prisoner uniforms, called themselves the
“Dell Recycling High Tech Chain Gang,”
and demonstrated at the January 2003
Consumer Electronics Show, generating
international publicity about Dell’s partnership with FPI.142 In July 2003, immediately after SVTC released a report comparing UNICOR’s recycling program with a
commercial California recycler,

Dell
ended their UNICOR contract. Dell
cited, in part, concerns from customers.
143

144

Johns Hopkins University has also stopped
its UNICOR electronic waste contract. As
one employee put it, “Using prison labor
was not looked at very favorably.”145

“Boy, were they pissed off
when Dell dropped them for
recycling. Took it out on
inmates!”
—Prisoner L

39 | UNDERCUTTING RESPONSIBLE RECYCLERS

In August 2003, the state of California
also pulled its contract with UNICOR and
sought the services of private recyclers.

pilot [Project GREEN-FED] and partnering with others to expand this program to
households throughout the country.”150

Mark Murray, director of Californians
Against Waste, told the Los Angeles Times
that by choosing to direct the state’s ewaste—370 tons accumulated over 12

Insisting on environmental justice is
essential to counter UNICOR’s efforts to
represent itself as a green business.

inadequate tools], we must do

months—to private industry, California

one or two things: hit the case

would help the private sector “make the

with the small, ineffective ham mer in the general area of where

investments they need [to meet demand]
for the future.”146 In the same article, a

the screw holds the case to the

representative from the Machinists Union

inner screw stanchions, or mis -

said, “[W]hen we have jobs leaving the

Choosing prison labor will not create
green jobs or the infrastructure needed to
meet the toxic e-waste crisis. Instead,
such policies displace the burden onto the
least empowered communities, where
enforcing health and safety regulations is
most difficult. When done properly, e-

“To get around this problem [of

use the air-gun to "drill" the plas tic away from the screw/stan chion area to free the case. This
can/does cause MANY prob lems: the plastic can break
and/or shatter, which releases
dust/particles into the air, or we
can accidently [sic] break the
lead-encased glass CRT. NOT
good. If we 'drill' the case,
fumes are caused by the
heat/friction; thus we smell the
toxic fumes as we try to open up
each monitor case.”
—Prisoner A

state, going across the border, we need to
promote an industry that provides good
jobs like recycling.”147
In spite of these setbacks, UNICOR continues trying to expand its electronics
recycling business. UNICOR represents
itself as a “true green solution”148 to the ewaste problem and proclaims its “environmental sensitivity”149 on its website without acknowledging well-documented
cases of toxic exposure in its facilities.
These marketing efforts underscore the
importance that UNICOR places on ewaste recycling, a business that produces
approximately $8-10 million in revenue
per year.

“Just wanted to take a minute to
tell all those active in the SVTC
and other activists that we pris oners are greatful [sic] for your
efforts on our behalf. Have no
doubt—your protests are mak ing the bastards feel the heat!
Every time I talk to a UNICOR
employee about the recent
inspections, they mention the
word protests as the reason for
the changes and the concern
among the bosses at UNICOR.”
—Prisoner E

A clear example of UNICOR’s ambition is
Project GREEN-FED. In August 2005,
two months after the BOP report documenting toxic exposure, UNICOR contracted with the state Office of
Environmental Quality in Arkansas to
handle its glut of e-waste and called this
pilot program Project GREEN-FED.
Arkansas residents can dial a 1-800 number and FedEx their old electronics, free
of charge, to the nearest federal prison for
recycling. In the foreword to its 2005
Annual Report, UNICOR declared, “We
anticipate building on the success of this

waste recycling can contribute to community economic development and environmental protection by providing stable
“green” jobs. The proper way to address
electronic waste recycling is through efficient, transparent, modern facilities
staffed by free labor, possessed of their
rights as employees, and able to protect
themselves and nearby communities from
harm. UNICOR is a closed, unregulated
world of poor people and people of color
condemned to dangerous work for little
pay under backward conditions. Now is
the time to draw a line.

CONCLUSION | 40

VIII.
CONCLUSION
UNICOR represents the worst in domestic
electronic recycling. The serious concerns
raised in this report regarding the exposure of captive workers and prison
employees to toxics; the disproportionate
impact of UNICOR operations on poor
people and people of color who comprise
the growing ranks of the prison population; the lack of workers’ rights; and the
unfair negative impact of UNICOR on
responsible recyclers demand only one

response: get UNICOR out of e-waste
recycling, and fully investigate all their
operations to ensure that the rights of
workers behind prison walls are protected.
Because workers in UNICOR factories are
a largely hidden population, they are particularly vulnerable. Because people in
prison are viewed as disposable by many,
their health and safety is easily ignored.
However, the ramifications of such gross

41 | CONCLUSION

disregard for their health and safety, as
well as the ability of UNICOR to expand
its share of the recycling market negatively impact all of us. We hope this report
amplifies the voices of those workers
within these government sweatshops trying to protect their rights, their health
“You are quite right the method
of handling this equipment is
primitive. Because it has affect ed many of us who are here in
[prison]...can you provide more
details as to the problems asso ciated with improper handling of
the materials?... It would be very
helpful to us and would put an
end to the use of what amounts
to the use of slave labor to avoid
compliance with safety and
health regulations that affect
many inmates. Some who have
worked directly in this program
have suffered some illnesses
which are unexplained; maybe
this will help clear up the mys tery.”
—Prisoner G
“What I would really like to see
is an attorney file against this
UNICOR for reckless disregard
of human rights.... I and many
other inmate workers know we
are being contaminated, slowly
sterilized, and permanently dam aged in insidious ways, and we
need someone with true energy
to help us. Many here will resent
this treatment.”
—Prisoner B

and safety, and the environment. We hope
that it sheds some light on the hidden
world of captive labor in the United States
and supports efforts to build a responsible, domestic electronic recycling infrastructure.
In 1998, UNICOR declared “while there
are no stockholders [in UNICOR], each
and every member of the public is a stakeholder.”151 In its 1999 annual report, titled
“Paying Dividends to America,” Chairman
of the Board Joseph Aragon bragged,
“What if there was a corporation that paid
billions of dollars in dividends and cost
its shareholders nothing to own? What an
investment! What a price to earnings
ratio!”152 Aragon is right; while UNICOR
is the one minting money on the backs of
poor people and people of color, we are
all “stakeholders” and are responsible for
the consequences of this government corporation.
As Special Counsel Scott Bloch said:
Federal employees and prisoners
inhaling poisons due to the neglect
of their superiors, and federal
agencies whitewashing the investigation. It sounds like a Hollywood
dramatization like Shawshank
Redemption, or a John Grisham
novel with wild conspiracy theories. In this case, however, workers
and inmates were exposed to hazardous materials without protection... and the Bureau of Prisons

and Federal Prison Industries did
nothing to stop it, and indeed frustrated attempts to investigate the
matter. These are powerful arms of
the United States Department of
Justice. Even if the problem is less
a wholesale coverup and simply a
cabal of self-interested bureaucrats,
challenging it is a formidable
task.153
The task is for all of us to pick up the
challenge.

APPENDIX A: THINGS YOU CAN DO TO STOP UNICOR RECYCLING | 42

APPENDIX A:
THINGS YOU CAN DO
TO STOP UNICOR RECYCLING

43 | APPENDIX A: THINGS YOU CAN DO TO STOP UNICOR RECYCLING

1. Write the President and House
Judiciary Committee members, and
demand that your tax dollars stop under-

4. Tell the University Surplus Property
Administration you disagree with their
decision to host UNICOR at its annual

mining responsible recycling and stop
putting the health and safety of prisoners
and prison guards, and their families, at
risk. Demand to know what these politi-

conference and that UNICOR is not a
responsible recycler. UNICOR is wooing
the college market through the trade association the University Surplus Property

cal leaders are doing to stop UNICOR’s

Administration. Write the USPA (1344 S.

expansion in this industry and to make

Harrison Rd., East Lansing, MI 48823).

UNICOR pay for the damage already
caused (including medical testing and
health care). The President can be contacted at the White House, 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington
DC 20500. For a list of Judiciary
Committee members, see
http://judiciary.house.gov/CommitteeMem
bership.aspx
2. Tell the EPA to get real about environmental justice. Make environmental justice a part of all environmentally preferable purchasing guidelines by implementing standards that protect worker health
and safety and forbid prison labor and
dumping outside the U.S. Information
about environmental justice at the EPA is
available at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/environmentaljustice/. Call the EPA
at 202-564-2515 or 800-962-6215.
3. Stop Project GREEN-FED. Contact
your state offices of environmental quality
and county waste management districts,
and ask how they handle e-waste. Tell
them that companies that exploit prisoner
labor or dump electronics outside the U.S.
are not green solutions. Demand meaningful, effective, and just e-waste recycling
laws in your state. For more info on legislative solutions, see http://www.computertakeback.com/legislation_and_policy/in
dex.cfm

5. Take Action to ensure that your campus is not recycling with UNICOR. If
you are a student, teacher, or campus
worker, and are interested in figuring out
how your school is disposing of its electronic waste, contact Silicon Valley
Toxics Coalition at
studentaction@svtc.org or 408-287-6707
ext 323.
6. Use only recyclers who have signed
the Electronics Recycler’s Pledge of True
Stewardship. Do you know how the institutions and professional associations you
belong to dispose of their electronic
waste? For more information on the
Pledge, see
http://www.ban.org/pledge1.html, and to
find a responsible recycler in your area,
see
http://www.computertakeback.com/the_so
lutions/recyclers_map.cfm.
7. Support organizations that empower
prisoners, their friends, family members
and communities to advocate for themselves and their rights. For more information, contact Prison Activist Resource
Center at parc@prisonactivist.org or P.O.
Box 339 Berkeley, CA 94701.
8. Write or call the International
Association of Electronics Recyclers at
P.O. Box 16222 Albany, NY 12212-6222,
1-888-989-4237. Tell them that prison

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 44

labor programs do not provide environmentally preferable recycling and that you
oppose their decision to certify UNICOR
factories.
9. Demand that the Electronic Product
Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)
require that prison labor is not used for
electronics recycling. Contact the Green
Electronics Council at info@greenelectronicscouncil.org or 503-279-9383. For
more information, see
http://www.epeat.net/.
10. Educate yourself and others about
electronics recycling and prison labor.
The Office of Special Counsel has delivered a report to the President and the
Chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary
Committees on UNICOR’s recycling program. In the past, U.S. Congressman Pete
Hoekstra has led hearings on UNICOR
and undercutting the private sector. For
more information, follow updating coverage of this issue at http://www.svtc.org
and PARC’s “Prisons Poison” page at
http://www.prisonactivist.org/?q=taxonomy_menu/9/59/96.

APPENDIX B: UNICOR’S ELECTRONIC RECYCLING’S CLAIMS AND FACTS | 46

APPENDIX B:
UNICOR’S ELECTRONIC
RECYCLING’S CLAIMS AND FACTS

47 | APPENDIX B: UNICOR’S ELECTRONIC RECYCLING’S CLAIMS AND FACTS

UNICOR’s recycling program has posted
videos on its website promoting itself as
“a true green solution”154 to the growing

ger of toxicity poisoning and that all the
hoop la about danger to us was being
exaggerated by ‘tree huggers and

problem of electronic waste (e-waste).
You would never know from these videos
that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)
confirmed in 2005 that prisoners and staff

alarmists’—as [the UNICOR factory manager] refers to them…. If the safety officer
told us to do one thing and [the factory
manager] told us to do something else we

in at least three UNICOR recycling factories were exposed to toxics.155 Or that fed-

followed [the factory manager]’s
orders.”159

eral Special Counsel Scott Bloch has
accused the BOP and UNICOR of “neglect,” “whitewashing the investigation,”
and “essentially act[ing] as if actual harm
would have to occur before they would
make safety changes.”156 Or that Leroy
Smith, named the 2006 Public Servant of
the Year by Bloch for whistleblowing on
conditions in UNICOR recycling, has stated, “My concern is that the dangers that I
identified go un-remedied to the continuing detriment of my colleagues who work
in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the
inmates working in those prison industry
factories.”157
What else don’t you know about
UNICOR’s recycling operations? The following are some claims from UNICOR’s
videos, and some facts.
CLAIM: “Our factories are regulated,
and operate in accordance with all applicable federal, state, and local EPA regulations: with full-time safety
managers…”158
FACT: Federal prisons have full-time safety managers who are responsible for the
entire institution. UNICOR factories do
not. The story of Leroy Smith is an example of one safety manager who ran afoul
of UNICOR. Smith’s story, documented in
the SVTC report “Toxic Sweatshops,” is
corroborated by sworn statements from
prisoners, one of whom writes, “We at
that time believed that we weren’t in dan-

CLAIM: “third party inspections by
OSHA, state, federal, and the EPA… ”160
FACT: Private industries can be inspected
at any time by regulatory agencies such as
the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) and the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
prison industries cannot. OSHA and the
EPA must give advance notice to the
prison. Sworn statements from prisoners
detail UNICOR staff ordering major cleanups of their factories prior to inspection
and ordering prisoners to work slowly on
the day of inspection. Regulatory agencies
cannot document actual work conditions
and guarantee that test results for air
quality reflect actual work conditions
without having the right to conduct surprise inspections of UNICOR factories.
CLAIM: “ISO and IAER certified; state
permitting, and annual complete environmental compliance testing… ”161
FACT: Leroy Smith calls UNICOR’s pursuit of certification “a paper chase.”162
Certification and compliance testing does
not mean that air samples and wipe samples were taken to measure for possible
toxic exposure. UNICOR does not
acknowledge that its belated pursuit of
certification follows official complaints by
prison staff and prisoners, and investigations by the BOP and the Office of Special
Counsel. Jeff Ruch, director of Public

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 48

Employees for Environmental
Responsibility, has suggested that UNICOR and the BOP’s claims should be

ex-convict is likely to feel like a 19th-century cobbler walking into a Nike factory
when he looks for work in his trade.”166

received with skepticism, noting in 2005,
“the Federal Bureau of Prisons insists that
the problems it initially had vehemently
denied now have been magically resolved
by the same managers who created them

In 2000, UNICOR’s former Chairman of
the Board Joseph Aragon told Congress,
“Our technology in prisons is often much
older as it was generations ago in the private sector.”167 Using appropriate, indus-

in the first place.”163

try-standard technology such as automated shredders would conflict with

CLAIM: “All staff attend outside OSHA
compliance and workplace safety training. Additionally, we provide our workers with medical testing to insure their

UNICOR’s goal to keep the maximum

health and safety.”164

intensive practices have meant such

FACT: Prisoners are not considered
“employees” under U.S. labor law and do
not have the same rights and protections
as prison guards. While prison guards are
free to seek medical testing from private
doctors at their own expense, prisoners
must rely on UNICOR and the prison
medical staff. Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition has received sworn statements
from prisoners complaining about being
misinformed about the health and safety
risks of electronics recycling, threatened
with punishment for receiving independent information on them, being denied
medical testing, or denied the results to
their tests if UNICOR allowed them to be
tested. The rise in complaints about UNICOR recycling from current and former
guards at Marianna, Florida; Elkton,
Ohio; and Atwater, California should raise
concerns about conditions for prisoners.

number of prisoners busy in its makework programs. According to sworn statements from prisoners, UNICOR’s laborthings as breaking monitors apart because
prisoners are denied the proper screwdriver and breaking leaded CRT glass with
hammers. Such practices increase the risk
of injury and toxic exposure.
A “true green solution” to the problem
of e-waste means acknowledging the
industry’s toxic legacy and taking steps
to repair it, through such steps as making electronics producers responsible for
their products so they have an incentive
to remove toxics from production, passing environmentally preferrable purchasing guidelines that incorporate environmental justice, and contracting with
responsible recyclers who have signed
the Pledge of True Stewardship.168

CLAIM: “Our facilities have trained
workers that clean and resurface CRT
monitors for re-use, burn tests for quality assurance, and rebuild.”165
FACT: A 1997 article by Government
Executive magazine stated, “[UNICOR]
uses only labor-intensive practices, so an

PICK A TRUE GREEN SOLUTION…
STOP USING UNICOR!

ENDNOTES | 50

ENDNOTES

51 | ENDNOTES

1 Computer Reuse and Recycling Coalition, “100
Percent Day,”
http://www.pcsforschools.org/100percentday,
last accessed 9/29/06.

Industry, 2006.
http://www.svtc.org/cleancc/pubs/system_error
_2006.pdf, last accessed 9/23/06.
11 Op. cit. 6 (BAN, et. al. 2002; Puckett, 2005).

2 Elizabeth Grossman, High Tech Trash : Digital
Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health
(Washington: Island Press/Shearwater Books,
2006), p 248.
3 United States Office of Special Counsel, “OSC
Names Recipient of 2006 Public Servant
Award,” 9/7/06. http://www.osc.gov/documents/press/2006/pr06_16.htm, last accessed
9/13/06.
4 For the full list of allegations, see Dryovage and
Ruch’s letter to Glenn Fine, Inspector General
of the Department of Justice, dated 4/5/06, at
http://www.peer.org/docs/osc/06_5_4_letter.pd
f, last accessed 4/30/06. They include lack of
environmental impact assessments, noncompliance for lead and cadmium, lack of proper
protective equipment, and improper handling
of hazardous metals, including disposal at
county landfills and into the city waste water
treatment system.
5Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s
Prisons, Confronting Confinement (New York,
NY: Vera Institute of Justice, 2006), p 2.
http://www.prisoncommission.org/pdfs/Confro
nting_Confinement.pdf , last accessed
9/15/06.
6 Basel Action Network (BAN) et al., Exporting
Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia (Seattle,
WA: Basel Action Network, Silicon Valley
Toxics Coalition with Toxics Link India,
SCOPE (Pakistan) and Greenpeace China,
2002). See also Jim Puckett et al., “The Digital
Dump: Exporting Re-Use and Abuse to
Africa,” (Seattle, WA: Basel Action Network,
2005).
7 Bureau of Prisons, Report to the Office of Special
Counsel, 6/13/05.
http://www.peer.org/docs/ca/05_24_8_prisonltr.pdf, last accessed 9/18/06. See also PEER
press release, “Federal Prisons Admit Toxic
Exposure of Staff & Inmates,” 8/24/05.
http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_i
d=580.
8 Letter from Matthew Glover, Disclosure Unit,
Office of Special Counsel, to Leroy Smith,
“Re: OSC File # DI-04-2815,” 4/3/06.
http://www.peer.org/docs/osc/06_5_4_smith_le
tter.pdf, last accessed 9/21/06.
9 “‘Beacon of False Hope’: Remarks by Leroy Smith
Upon Receiving Public Servant Award for
2006,” 9/7/06.
http://www.peer.org/docs/osc/06_7_9_lsmith_s
tmt.pdf, last accessed 9/13/06.
10 For more information, see Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition, System Error: A Resource for Student
Activism on Environmental, Labor, and Human
Rights Problems Associated with the High-Tech

12 Californians Against Waste et al., Poison PCs and
Toxic TVs : California’s Biggest Environmental
Crisis That You’ve Never Heard Of (Sacramento,
CA: Californians Against Waste Foundation,
2001). http://www.svtc.org/cleancc/pubs/poisonpc.htm, last accessed 9/15/06. Silicon
Valley Toxics Coalition, “System Error: A
Resource for Student Activism on
Environmental, Labor, and Human Rights
Problems Associated with the High-Tech
Industry,” (San Jose: SVTC, 2006).
http://www.svtc.org/cleancc/pubs/system_error
_2006.pdf, last accessed 9/21/06.
13 These TVs and monitors use Cathode Ray Tubes
(CRTs). Californians Against Waste et al.,
Poison Pcs and Toxic Tvs : California’s Biggest
Environmental Crisis That You’ve Never Heard
Of.
14 United States Agency for Toxic Substances and
Disease Registry, Toxicological Profile for Lead :
Draft (Atlanta, Ga.: U.S. Dept. of Health and
Human Services Public Health Service Agency
for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry,
2005).
15 Quotations from prisoners B, D, K describe these
practices more extensively later in this report.
16 Quotations are taken from letters and affidavits
collected by Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.
17 United States White House Task Force on
Recycling, “Stepping into the Winner’s Circle:
Federal Prison Industries,” Closing the Circle
News, Spring 2001.
http://www.ofee.gov/ctc/spring01.pdf, last
accessed 9/23/06.
18 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2005, p6.
19 Bruce Geiselman, “Electronics Recycler’s Use of
Prison Labor Makes Waves,” Waste News,
2/1/02. http://www.wastenews.com.
20 Federal Electronics Challenge, “Federal Facilities
Recycling of Electronic Equipment: Options
Available to Federal Facilities,” 05/16/2006,
http://www.federalelectronicschallenge.net/res
ources/docs/recycling_5.pdf, last accessed
9/21/06.
21 Bureau of Prisons, Report to the Office of Special
Counsel, 6/13/05, p19.
http://www.peer.org/docs/ca/05_24_8_prisonltr.pdf, last accessed 9/18/06.
22 Ibid.
23 “Electronics Recycler’s Use of Prison Labor Makes
Waves,” Bruce Geiselman, 2/1/02, Waste News,
http://www.wastenews.com, last accessed
9/21/06 and Perry, Tekla S., “Recycling Behind
Bars,” June 2005, IEEE Spectrum,

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 52

http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/jun05/1230, last
accessed 9/21/06.
24 Sheila Davis and Ted Smith, “Corporate Strategies
for Electronic Recycling: A Tale of Two
Systems,” (San Jose: Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition and the Computer TakeBack
Campaign, 2003).
http://www.svtc.org/cleancc/pubs/prison_final.
pdf
25 Ibid.
26 Laurie J. Flynn, “Dell Stops Hiring Prisoners For
Its Recycling Program,” New York Times,
7/4/03.
27 Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER), “Computer Recycling
Exposes Prison Staff and Inmates to Toxics,”
3/7/05.
http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_i
d=490, last accessed 9/21/06.

41 Abdul Hamid Beig, “Summary of Observations at
UNICOR/Federal BOP Atwater,” Department
of Toxic Substances Control, California
Environmental Protection Agency, 6/23/03.
42 Mary Dryovage, attorney for Leroy Smith, in
Leroy Smith vs. Department of Justice, MSPB
hearing, 7/29/05 p134.
43 PEER, “Attorney General Investigates Prison
Computer Recycling,” 3/31/05.
http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_i
d=503, last accessed 10/2/06.
44 PEER, “Computer Recycling Exposes Prison Staff
and Inmates to Toxics: Prison Industry Safety
Concerns Censored from OSHA
Investigation”, 3/7/05.
http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_i
d=490, last accessed 9/21/06. See also Phil
Rodriguez, memorandum for Paul M. Schultz,
Atwater Warden, 2/13/05.
http://www.peer.org/docs/ca/2005_7_3_rodrigu
ez_memo.pdf, last accessed 9/21/06.

28 Op. cit. 7 (BOP 6/05, PEER 8/05)
29 Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality,
“ADEQ Sponsoring Recycling of E-Scrap,”
8/22/05.
http://www.adeq.state.ar.us/ftproot/Pub/pa/Ne
ws_Releases/2005-0822_ADEQ_Sponsoring_Recycling_of_EScrap.mht, last accessed 9/23/06.

45 OSC, “Introduction to the OSC.”
http://www.osc.gov/intro.htm, last accessed
9/29/06.
46 OSC, “Scott J. Bloch: Special Counsel.”
http://www.osc.gov/bloch.htm, last accessed
9/29/06.
47 Op. Cit. 30 (OSC 4/06).

30 Office of Special Counsel, summary case file #DI04-2815, 4/3/06, p14.
http://www.peer.org/docs/osc/06_5_4_smith_le
tter.pdf, last accessed 4/06.
31 PEER, “Justice Probe Of Prison Computer
Recycling Operations,” 5/15/06,
http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_i
d=687, last accessed 9/21/06.

48 Ibid., p13 and 14.
49 Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility, “Federal Prisons Admit Toxic
Exposure of Staff & Inmates: Discipline of
Officials Promised for Ignoring Computer
Recycling Safety Warnings”, 8/24/05.
http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_i
d=580, last accessed 9/21/06.

32 Op cit. 3 (OSC 9/06).
33 Leroy Smith, testimony in Leroy Smith vs.
Department of Justice, Merit Systems
Protection Board hearing, 7/15/05, p167-8.
34 Richard Luna, testimony in Leroy Smith vs.
Department of Justice, MSPB hearing, 7/12/05,
p133.
35 ibid., p131.
36 Prisoner B and Prisoner K, affidavits.

50 Op. Cit. 4 (Dryovage and Ruch letter to Fine,
4/06).
51 Shogren, Elizabeth. “Prison Work Recycling
Computers Poses Health Risks,” National
Public Radio, 4/8/06. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5331970, last
accessed 9/13/06.

37 Prisoner C, affidavit.

Zernike, Kate. “Report Faults Prison Bureau on
Chemicals,” New York Times, 4/5/06.
http://www.nytimes.com (registration
required), last accessed 9/13/06.

38 Bureau of Prisons report to the Office of Special
Counsel, 6/13/05, p7, available at
http://www.peer.org/docs/ca/05_24_8_prisonltr.pdf, last accessed 9/18/06.

52 Federal Prison Industries, Annual Report, Fiscal
Year 1960, p1.

39 Ibid., p8.

53 Federal Prison Industries, Annual Report, Fiscal
Year 1945.

40 Leroy Smith, letter to the Office of Special
Counsel, response to the BOP report,
10/27/05, p14.

54 Op. Cit. 52 (FPI 1960), p3.
55 Federal Prison Industries, Annual Report, Fiscal
Year 1968.

53 | ENDNOTES

56 Federal Prison Industries, Annual Report, Fiscal
Year 1975, p2 and 6-7.
57 UNICOR, Factories with Fences: The History of
Federal Prison Industries (May 1996), p29.
58 Federal Prison Industries, Annual Report, Fiscal
Years 1970 (p3) and 1979 (p3).
59 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1989, p4.
60 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1994, p18.
61 Op. Cit. 20 (Federal Electronics Challenge,
5/06).
62 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2005, p6 and
23.
63 Paul W. Keve, Prisons and the American
Conscience: A History of U.S. Federal
Corrections, Carbondale: Southern Illinois
University Press, 1995.
64 Ibid., p166.
65 Ibid.
66 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1984, p6.
67 For more background, see FPI’s Annual Reports
from the mid-to-late 1970s, starting with the
Industrial Designers Society of America’s survey of FPI, sponsored by the National
Endowment for the Arts, as described in FPI’s
Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1975, p2.
68 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1993, p3.
69 UNICOR, Annual Reports, Fiscal Years 1980 (p8)
and 1996 (p67).
70 UNICOR, Annual Reports, Fiscal Years 1975 (p1,
7) and 2000 (p36).
71 UNICOR, Annual Reports, Fiscal Years 1982 (p7)
and 1998 (p7). See also “Marketing the
Product and Selling the Program: UNICOR
Since 1980”,
http://www.UNICOR.gov/about/organization/h
istory/UNICOR_1980.cfm, last accessed
6/1/05.
72 Silja J. A. Talvi.“The New Plantation,” The
Gadflyer, 7/7/04. http://gadflyer.com/articles/?ArticleID=158, last accessed 9/12/06.
73 Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Prison Statistics,”
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/prisons.htm last
accessed 9/29/06.
74 Op. cit. 60 (UNICOR Annual Report 1994).
75 “Language enacted in the FY02 and FY03
Defense Authorization bills, the FY04
Consolidated Appropriations Act, and the
FY05 Omnibus Appropriations Act provided
partial interim relief from FPI’s monopoly by
allowing federal agencies to decide how to
best meet their procurement needs by examining existing marketplace opportunities and

purchasing products on a competitive basis.”
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, statement on
“Federal Prison Industries Contracting,” prepared for the House Committee on the
Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism,
and Homeland Security, 7/1/05, downloadable
at
http://www.uschamber.com/issues/index/govtcontracting/fpi.htm, last accessed 9/23/06. For
reporting on the aforementioned spending
bills, see Government Executive,
http://www.govexec.com, particularly articles
by Peckenpaugh (12/19 and 21/01), Glover
(4/12/04), and Gruber (7/15/05).
76 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1998, p13.
77 FPI, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1961, p6-8.
78 FPI, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1972, p9.
79 Basel Action Network (BAN) et al., Exporting
Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia.
http://www.svtc.org/cleancc/pubs/technotrash.pdf.
80 U.S. Constitution, ,
http://www.archives.gov/national-archivesexperience/charters/constitution_amendments_11-27.html, last accessed September
23, 2006.
81 James V Bennett. “Lesson #6: Prison Industries,”
in United States Prison Service Study Course,
1936, p1.
82 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1990, p2.
83 Ibid., p5.
84 United States Senate Committee on
Governmental Affairs, 2004, “Amending The
Office Of Federal Procurement Policy Act To
Establish a Governmentwide Policy Requiring
Competition in Certain Executive Agency
Procurements, and for Other Purposes”,
11/18/04. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgibin/cpquery/T?&report=sr415&dbname=108
&, last accessed 9/15/06.
85 Association of Federal Defense Attorneys,
“Counseling Your Client To Do Federal Time:
Key BOP Policies / Procedures, And Advice
From Former Federal Inmates”,
http://www.afda.org/afda/news/counselingclients.pdf, last accessed 9/15/06.
86 William Quigley, “Prison Work, Wages, and
Catholic Social Thought: Justice Demands
Decent Work for Decent Wages, Even for
Prisoners”, Santa Clara Law Review, 2004, Vol.
44, p. 1159,
http://law.loyno.edu/~quigley/prisonworkwages.pdf, last accessed 9/15/06.
87 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2000, p11.
88 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2000, p11.
89 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1997, p5.

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 54

90 Dr. Gary Martin, testimony to “Prison Industry
Programs: Effects on Inmates, Law-Abiding
Workers, and Business,” hearing of the
Subcommittee on Oversight and
Investigations of the House Committee on
Education and the Workforce, 8/5/98.
http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/edu/h
edo&i5-139.000/hedo&i5-139.htm, last
accessed 9/23/06.
91 Op. Cit. 79 (BAN, 2002)
92 For a list of definitions related to environmental
justice, see the Coalition Against
Environmental Racism, “Environmental
Justice Definitions,” http://gladstone.uoregon.edu/~caer/ej_definitions.html, last
accessed 9/21/06.
93 Executive Order 12898: Federal Actions to Address
Environmental Justice in Minority Populations
and Low-Income Populations, 2/11/94.
http://www.epa.gov/federalregister/eo/eo12898.
htm, last accessed 8/13/06.
94 This timeline draws from the “Environmental
Justice Timeline – Milestones” prepared by the
Environmental Justice Resource Center for the
Second National People of Color
Environmental Leadership Summit.
95 United Church of Christ Commission for Racial
Justice, Toxic Wastes and Race in the United
States: A National Report on the Racial and
Socioeconomic Characteristics of Communities
with Hazardous Wastes Sites (New York:
United Church of Christ, 1987).
96 Cody Sisco, “Building a Critical Resistance,”
WireTap. 2/26/01,
http://www.alternet.org/wiretap/10517/, last
accessed 9/21/06.
97 Chris Thompson, “Biting the Hand That
Poisoned Them,” East Bay Express. 9/7/05,
http://www.eastbayexpress.com/Issues/200509-07/news/cityofwarts.html, last accessed
9/21/06.
98 Adrienne Maree Brown, “Jail Spin: An interview
with activists at the Prison Moratorium
Project,” Grist Magazine, 6/21/05,
http://www.grist.org/news/maindish/2005/06/2
1/brown-prison, last accessed 9/21/06.
99 First National People of Color Environmental
Leadership Summit. “Principles of
Environmental Justice,” adopted 10/27/91.
http://www.ejrc.cau.edu/princej.html, last
accessed 9/20/06.
100 “Federal Agency Safety and Health Programs
With the Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department
of Justice”, directive FAP 01-00-002 - FAP
1.2A, Occupational Safety & Health
Administration.
http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.sho
w_document?p_table=DIRECTIVES&p_id=16
78, last accessed 8/22/06.
101 See, for instance, “Technical Assistance—Fair

Labor Standards Act,” Division of Human
Resources, Colorado Department of Personnel
and Administration, 11/05. http://www.colorado.gov/dpa/dhr/comp/docs/flsa.pdf, last
accessed 9/23/06.
102 Op. cit. 99 (Principles of Environmental Justice,
1991).
103 John Midgley, “Prison Litigation 1950-2000,” in
Prison Nation : The Warehousing of America’s
Poor, Tara Herivel and Paul Wright, eds., New
York ; London: Routledge, 2003.
104 Op. Cit. 99 (“Principles of Environmental
Justice,” 1991).
105 Federal Bureau of Prisons, “Inmate
Breakdown,” Quick Facts about the BOP,
8/26/06. http://www.bop.gov/news/quick.jsp,
last accessed 9/21/06.
106 Electronic Product Environmental Assessment
Tool, “Welcome to EPEAT.”
http://www.epeat.net, last accessed 9/21/06.
107 “Did EPEAT consider a criterion prohibiting the
use of prison labor in recycling programs?”,
EPEAT Frequently Asked Questions,
http://www.epeat.net/FAQ.aspx, last accessed
September 23, 2006.
108 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Plug-in
to eCycling: Guidelines for Materials
Management, 5/04.
http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/conserve/pl
ugin/pdf/guide.pdf, last accessed 9/21/06.
109 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1997, p15.
110 Op. Cit. 107 (EPEAT FAQ).
111 PEER press conference, 9/7/06.
112 Op. Cit. 78 (UNICOR Annual Report 1972).
113 Op. Cit. 3 (OSC 9/06).
114 The Electronics Recycler’s Pledge of True
Stewardship, Basel Action Network.
http://www.ban.org/pledge1.html, last accessed
8/22/05.
115 Global Investment Recovery, Inc.
“Environmental Policy,” 10/10/03.
http://www.girpm.com/environment/environpolicy.asp, last accessed 9/21/06.
116 UNICOR. “Recycling Facts,” http://www.UNICOR.gov/recycling/facts.cfm, last accessed
9/21/06.
117 UNICOR Recycling, “Customer Certification
and Letter of Assurance,” http://www.UNICOR.gov/information/publications/pdfs/recycling/vendor_registration_packet.pdf, last
accessed 9/14/06.
118 Op. Cit 6 (BAN, 2002; Puckett, 2005).
119 Op. Cit. 24 (Davis and Smith, 2003).

55 | ENDNOTES

120 Ibid. and reports from prisoner workers.

135 Op. Cit. 132, (U.S. EPA 12/04).

121 These observations were made after a September
2004 inspection Maryellen Thomas, Assistant
Director, Health Services Division, Bureau of
Prisons memo to Paul Schultz, Warden, USP
Atwater. Exhibit J in Office of Special Counsel
report, 4/3/06, page 4.

136 Jenny Mandel, “SBA: Federal Prison Industries
Not Small for Services,” Government Executive,
8/4/06, http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0806/081406m1.htm, last accessed
9/23/06.

122 UNICOR, “Stewards of the Environment.”
http://www.UNICOR.gov/recycling/stewards.cf
m, last accessed 9/23/06.
123 Joseph Aragon, testimony in “Federal Prison
Industries: Proposed Military Clothing
Expansion: Assessing Existing Protections for
Workers, Business, and FPI’s Federal Agency
‘Customers’”, hearing of the Subcommittee on
Oversight and Investigations of the House
Committee on Education and the Workforce,
10/5/00, http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/edu/hedo&i6-133.000/hedo&i6-133.htm,
last accessed 9/23/06.
124 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1998, p9.
125 U.S. General Accounting Office, “Government
Corporations”, December 1995, p 83.
126 UNICOR Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1998, “Note
9: Planned Construction.”
127 Op. Cit. 90 (Martin testimony, 1998).
128 U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, “Report
on the Federal Prison Industries Competition
in Contracting Act of 2006,” report 109-591,
109th Congress, second session, p25.
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgibin/cpquery/?&dbname=cp109&sid=cp109O
D42V&refer=&r_n=hr591.109&item=&sel=T
OC_139975& , last accessed 9/30/06.

137 Small Business Administration, Office of
Government Contracting, Area 2. Size
Determination Case no: 2-2005-23&24,Feb.
3, 2005.
138 Small Business Administration, Office of
Government Contracting, Area 2. Size
Determination Case no: 2-2005-23&24,Feb.
3, 2005.
139 Op. Cit. 136, (Mandel 2006).
140 Interview with Ted Smith, Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition, 2006.
141 U.S. Chamber of Commerce, statement on
“Federal Prison Industries Contracting,” prepared for the House Committee on the
Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism,
and Homeland Security. 7/1/05.
http://www.uschamber.com/issues/index/govtcontracting/fpi.htm , last accessed 9/23/06.
142 Associated Press, “Environmentalists at Vegas
Trade Show Protest Dell’s Recycling,” Reno
Gazette-Journal, 1/9/03.
http://www.rgj.com/news/stories/html/2003/01
/09/31622.php?sp1=rgj&sp2=News&sp3=Loc
al+News:, last accessed 9/29/06.
143 Op. Cit. 24 (Davis and Smith, 2003).

129 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1998, p15.

144 Laura J. Flynn, “Dell Stops Using Prison
Workers,” New York Times, 7/4/03.
http://www.svtc.org/media/articles/2003/dell_st
ops_nyt.htm.

130 Elizabeth Grossman. “Toxic Recycling,” The
Nation, 11/21/05.

145 Elizabeth Grossman. “Toxic Recycling,” The
Nation, 11/21/05.

131 This is based on limited phone interviews by
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. In some cases,
UNICOR bids may be more expensive, or
clients may choose to go with the more
expensive private sector bids, citing other factors.

146 Miguel Bustillo,. “Prison-Based Recycling Effort
to End,” Los Angeles Times, 8/6/03..
http://www.computertakeback.com/news_and_
resources/archives/ca_stops_prisonerlabor.cfm,
last accessed 8/14/06.
147 Ibid.

132 U.S. EPA, “First Contracts Issued for
Environmentally Responsible Computer
Disposal throughout Federal Government,”
EPA, 12/29/04.
http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/b1ab
9f485b098972852562e7004dc686/1f4b1e4878
c5b06085256f79006fcc7b!OpenDocument,
last accessed 9/8/05.
133 Information about the READ program is available at
http://www.epa.gov/oam/read/index.htm, last
accessed September 21, 2006.
134 Grossman, High Tech Trash : Digital Devices,
Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, 237-8, 247.

148 UNICOR, “Recycling Business Group” video,
http://www.UNICOR.gov/recycling/, last
accessed June 2006.
149 UNICOR, “Respecting the Environment Is Just
Good Business,”
http:///www.UNICOR.gov/about/environmental_sensitivity/ , last accessed 9/19/06.
150 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2005, p2.
151 UNICOR, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1998, p14.
152 UNICOR, Annual Report Fiscal Year 1999, p9.

TOXIC SWEATSHOPS | 56

153 Op. Cit. 3 (OSC 9/06).
154 UNICOR’s videos on its “Recycling Business
Group” and “Demanufacturing and
Reconditioning Process” are available on its
website at http://www.UNICOR.gov/recycling/
, last accessed June 2006. All claims are drawn
from these videos.
155 The BOP report is available from the website of
Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility at
http://www.peer.org/docs/ca/05_24_8_prisonltr.pdf , last accessed 9/19/06.
156 Scott Bloch, “OSC Names Recipient of 2006
Public Servant Award,” 9/7/06,
http://www.osc.gov/documents/press/2006/pr0
6_16.htm, last accessed 9/19/06.
157 Leroy Smith, “Beacon of False Hope,” 9/7/06,
http://www.peer.org/docs/osc/06_7_9_lsmith_s
tmt.pdf, last accessed 9/19/06.
158 Op. Cit. 154 (UNICOR video).
159 Prisoner D affidavit. For more quotes from prisoners working in UNICOR factories, see
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s September
2006 report, “Toxic Sweatshops.”
160 Op. Cit. 154 (UNICOR video).
161 Op. Cit. 154 (UNICOR video).
162 Interview with author Aaron Shuman, 2006.
163 Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility, “Federal Prisons Admit Toxic
Exposure of Staff & Inmates: Discipline of
Officials Promised for Ignoring Computer
Recycling Safety Warnings”, 8/24/05.
http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_i
d=580, last accessed 9/19/06.
164 Op. Cit. 154 (UNICOR video).
165 Op. Cit. 154 (UNICOR video).
166 Jeff Erlich, “Competing with Convicts,”
Government Executive Magazine, 6/1/97,
http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=15579, last accessed 4/21/06.
167 Joseph Aragon, testimony in “Federal Prison
Industries: Proposed Military Clothing
Expansion: Assessing Existing Protections for
Workers, Business, and FPI’s Federal Agency
‘Customers’”, hearing of the Subcommittee on
Oversight and Investigations of the House of
Committee on Education and the Workforce,
10/5/00, http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/edu/hedo&i6-133.000/hedo&i6-133.htm,
last accessed 9/23/06.
168 For more information, see SVTC’s January 2006
report, “System Error,” downloadable at
http://www.svtc.org/cleancc/pubs/system_error
_2006.pdf.”

 

 

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