Bad PR: Convict Leasing in Industry

Doing well while doing good has always been a mantra for good business. The ability to be able to provide excellent products/services, take pride in it and do well by the community you serve has always been a hallmark of good local and internationally responsible business. As consumers we also love to know that our dollars are going toward good, respectable business that reinforce our ideals and valies that we are responsible and we live in a society that values humanity, life and families.


Unfortunately, that concept is eroding quickly as our cities and municipalities increasingly participate in convict leasing, an old and barbaric practise of using slave labor for incarcerated citizens. Infact, this egregious practise has origins in the American Transatlantic Slave Trade which enslaved, kidnapped, sexually exploited and killed millions of Africans. In fact every African American survivor in the US is evidence of that craven past.

In California, the Dixie fires are raging as America’s largest wildfire to date. However in California, incarcerated American citizens are being used to fight wildfires and being “paid” one or two dollars per DAY and composing up to 30 percent of fire fightung crews, according Cal Fire.

Contrast That with the average firefighter pay which is roughly $30,000 to $79,000 per year. Minimum wage in the state is less $14 an hour, but $1-2 dollars a day amounts to less than a quarter per hour–that is not pay, that is slavery. As Americans we want fires fought, but likely not through forced programs that turn citizens to slaves and endanger human life.

Prison Labor is a multi-billion dollar industry. These citizens are paid little more than $50/month which means they make less than $700 a year–a year! Many do not have a choice but to work. It is a disturbing and craven business full of bad press for American businesses and consumers who learn that major corporation and the U.S. economy are supported by slavery–again.

According to a 2020 NPR report, inmates are forced to work and often placed in solitary confinement if they refuse. Forced work is slavery. UNICOR is the agency used to put American citizens into slave labor earning half a billion dollars in revenue–once again our economy run on slave labor. And the agency pays prisoners just over 10 to 40 cents per hour.

The horror many for many who engage American industry face, includibg local communities and consumers, is that we may be buying or trading products manufactured through slave labor. Convict leasing or penal labor is rooted in the origins of slavery, as local black populations (particularly men) were criminalized for fake or petty crimes to force African Americans back into slavery in the 1800s.

As we look forward to creating an authentic brand for US businesses, local small businesses and consumers; America must look toward dismantling the convict leasing program which sends slave labor products and services abroad and to local communities–most who want to participation in open, honest and free trade, free from the evil spectre of slavery. According to stats compiled by Prison Policy.org nearly 25 percent of all US inmates work for UNICOR and there are over 2 million prisoners in the US today.

According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2018, 34 percent of the male population were black males while the general population of black Americans comprise only 14 percent of the population. How can we do good while doing well if our productivity depends on slave labor? Are your semiconductors, furniture, electronics, tech and services being made through slave labor and are we exporting slave labor to unsuspecting international market’s and business? Particularly against a traditionally persecuted and enslaved ethnic group in the US.

We can do well by doing what is good. As professionals in the marketing and PR space we must make it known that participation in such an atrocity will not be accepted. We need to let our partners and consumers know that we maintain our commitment to doing good by every community–both at home and abroad. We must be brave stopping the tragedy of slavery to continue.

We must let consumers and industries know the options they have to stop slavery through their buying choices. Without an end to convict leasing, and slave labor of all forms, we cannot act in good faith to seek to end human trafficking in abroad. Make your business a No-Slavery enterprise that creates good public relations toward and for all.

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