10 Companies that Use Prison Labour to Rake in Profits

prisoner in cell

Working in jail is a great idea; you’d think that prisoners would learn vital skills that they can use to get a job and turn their life around once they have completed their sentence but but prison labour is more lucrative than ever. According to thinkprogress: “people behind bars are forced to do grueling, back-breaking, and dangerous work for nickles and dimes, while corporations rack up billions of dollars in profit off the cheap labour.” 

It seems that these large corporations are not providing jobs to help educate the inmates, but are taking advantage of this modern-day slavery to have cheap production. Read on to find the shocking list of companies that use prison labour in 2017:

1. Whole Foods

whole foods workersMcall

Funnily enough, the fair trade company with the hefty price tag outsourced cheap prison labour. The corporation that’s famous for its animal welfare rating system doesn't have an amazing company culture for all its employees. They had prisoners working for them in Colorado until it became a major controversy and they ended the program in April 2017. Workers got paid as little as 74 cents a day and had no human rights, like social insurance or days off.

2. Mc Donald’s

McDonaldsBusiness Insider

The world’s most successful fast food chain is also guilty of purchasing a plethora of goods produced in jail, including plastic cutlery, containers, and uniforms. The inmates who sew McDonald’s uniforms make even less money by the hour than the people who wear them.

3. Wal-Mart

walmart workerChangewalmart

The controversial company produces its goods in jail farms despite them having a policy that states: ‘forced or prison labour will not be tolerated by Wal-Mart’. Prisoners work long and tiring hours in the heat to strip the UPC barcode and Wal-Mart serial numbers from their products so they can be re-sold to after-market retailers.

4. Victoria Secret


The iconic lingerie brand surprisingly hires inmates in South Carolina to sew undergarments and casual-wear. They are also hired to replace "Made in Honduras" tags with “Made in USA” ones. In the late 90’s two prisoners were placed in solitary confinement for telling journalists that they were employed to complete this job.

5. AT & T

at&t workersTimesunion

In the early 90’s the large telecommunications conglomerate laid off thousands of telephone operators to increase their profits. The solution? Hiring inmates to work in their call centres for less than two dollars a day.

6. BP

BP Oil WorkersWikipedia

When British Petroleum spilled 4.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf coast, the company sent a workforce of African-American inmates to clean up the toxic spill. Many community members were outraged as they were unemployed, but the oil business owners did nothing to reconcile the situation.

7. Starbucks

Starbucks workersHuffington Post

Our go-to coffee shop sadly uses prison workers to package their goods on a budget. Vice has the inside scoop from an inmate "you have grown men putting tea bags into larger plastic bags and getting paid £10 a week; it teaches you nothing about work ethic, just about being exploited.”

8. Microsoft

Microsoft employeesTime Magazine

The tech-giant used a subcontractor called Export who had inmates in Washington shrink-wrap software and up to 20,000 mouses. The Independent reported that “there are also concerns that as the numbers employed in prisons increase, the emphasis will be less on training and development and more on using ‘cheap labour’ to subsidize the prison estate.”

9. Nintendo

Nintendo buildingPolygon

The gaming tycoon Nintendo, has prisoners work on their overflow Game Boys to [games like] Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong. Paul Wright, a former prisoner said: "they are paying prison workers less than they're paying on the outside, but they aren't reducing the markup to the consumer."

10. American Airlines

American Airlines workersExpress News

The popular airline has inmates working in their call centres taking reservations for less than minimum wage.

“For those people doing time in federal prisons, the work isn’t optional. The Crime Control Act of 1990 established that all federal prisoners who are physically capable of work must have a job while serving their sentences. People who choose not to work are locked away in solitary confinement — deprived of dignity and human contact”, a former inmate Anderson said.

While cheap labour is expanding behind jail bars in the US, Mexico and the United Kingdom are trying to limit the exploitation of prisoners which is damaging the wider economy. Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association said: "We have concerns about simply using prisoners as 'cheap labour' for companies to cut their costs…Many prisons are based in parts of the country which are very deprived and there is a real risk that companies will choose to go for the cheapest option and outsource work to prison."

In Mexico a recent movement called Prison Art, set up by Jorge Cueto-Felgueroso who spent 11 months in jail, waiting for a trial before being found innocent. This organisation allows ex-offenders to work from home producing bags, wallets, belts and other accessories. Cueto-Felgueroso says “Prison Art is about raising prisoners’ self-esteem and providing them with a tradeable skill, it’s not just about work or wages. The bags we make are just a sub-product of the whole process…What’s important is the help we offer with rehabilitation and the reintegration into society afterwards.”



How do you feel about these large corporations using cheap prison labour? Would it make a difference in how you shop from now on? Leave us a comment in the section box below…