Work done by prisoners for the textile industry in the US, the inequality.

Due to recent events related to the death of George Floyd, the protests and the cry for reform from the black community and an immense array of support that has emerged from all over the world, a very distinctive circumstance, happening in front of our eyes is kept under the sheets as one more factor in the fashion and textile industry that again takes advantage of the disadvantaged.

Prison labor.

Facts about the US prison system:

Between 1980 and 2017, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 750%, rising from a total of 26,378 in 1980 to 225,060 in 2017.

The USA has 25% of the world's prisoners.

One in four adults in the USA has a criminal records, that's more than adults having bachelors degree.

Prison labor is worth around $2 billion USD a year.

95% of inmates will be released in the future but ⅔ will be rearrested within 3 years.

Prisoners have no labor rights.

70% of children that have fathers in prison are likely to end up in prison.

Spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of spending on Pre‐K‐12 public education in the last thirty years.


African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.

The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.

White men with a criminal record are more likely to get a job interview than Black men with no criminal record.

Having a record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by as much as 50 percent.

Reduced employment for the millions of people with records costs the United States of America $78 to $87 billion USD each year.

THE UNITED STATES CENSUS reports that in each of  these 10 southern states -- Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi -- more than 1 million people reported as Black.

10 States With the Highest Incarceration Rates:

Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri,Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana.

For drug-related offenses, Iowa ranked the highest with a mean of 9.3 years of jail time Tennessee, South Carolina, Minnesota, and Hawaii follow.

For immigration-related crimes, states were fairly similar overall. Kentucky and New Jersey tied for the longest average sentence at 1.9 years.

States are generally much harsher for crimes against persons, with Virginia ranking up top at 13.1 years in jail on average, followed by Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Kentucky.

White-collar crimes receive the longest sentences in Mississippi – an average of 4.5 years. Examples of white collar crimes could include wage theft, fraud, bribery, Ponzi schemes, insider trading, labor racketeering, embezzlement, cybercrime, copyright infringement, money laundering, identity theft, and forgery.

According to

“Prison labor is a very complicated and opaque topic,” said Peter McAllister, the executive director of the Ethical Trading Initiative, an alliance of companies, trade unions and nongovernmental organizations that back workers’ rights.

“On one hand, there are definitely well-intentioned brands with rehabilitation programs in place doing some good work all over the world,” he said. “On the other hand, there are big questions to be asked around whether inmates should ever form the mainstream production of a profit-driven label, particularly given how many unacceptable cases of prisoner exploitation exist deep in the global fashion supply chain.”

The biggest problem in stopping the export of products made in prisons is that the supply lines are “almost untraceable”. Supply lines, in general, are very difficult to trace due to the enormous complexity of supplier networks, a lack of communication between actors, and a general dearth of data that can be shared in the first place. The result is a frustratingly opaque global system of production.

The current pay leaves many prisoners struggling to afford phone calls to family members or toothpaste and deodorant from the commissary, experts said. Even after years of hard work inside, they frequently have little or nothing saved to help with rent or other necessities when they are released.

“If they were being paid — even something less than minimum wage, but some reasonable amount of money — they could get out and have at least a little bit of money to get started again,” said Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin who once served as a court-appointed monitor of that state’s prison system.

One of the very peculiar issues of the prison system is that whatever happens inside is very well kept inside. So when riots, protests, hunger strikes or other types of manifestations arise, is very difficult for the mainstream media to get a hold of these events. Protests are reported but since prisoners have almost no means of documenting or sharing details of exactly what's going on, it's extremely difficult to get accurate information.

Counter reports:

But the labor aspect of mass incarceration doesn’t end there. People with a felony conviction carry a stigma, a brand often accompanied by exclusion from the labor market. Michelle Alexander, an ex convict, calls “felon” the new “N” word. Indeed in the job world, those of us with felony convictions face a number of unique barriers. 

The most well-known is “the box”- that question on employment applications which asks about criminal background. Eleven states and more than 40 cities and counties have outlawed the box on employment applications. Supporters of “ban the box” argue that questions about previous convictions amount to a form of racial discrimination since such a disproportionate number of those with felony convictions are African-American and Latino. Advancing these "Ban the Box" campaigns will have a far more important impact on incarcerated people and workers than pressing for higher wages for those under contract with big companies inside.

All of this is not to deny that many corporations have made huge amounts of money from mass incarceration. Firms like Arizona’s Kitchell Construction, which has built more than 40 state prisons and 30 adult jails have made millions. The Tennessee-based Bob Barker Enterprises is a “household” name among the incarcerated. With a corporate vision of  “transforming criminal justice by honoring God in all we do,“ Barker has reaped massive profits from producing the poorest quality consumer goods, including two inch toothbrushes, for people behind bars. Then, of course, we have private prison operators like CCA and the GEO Group. Although the privates control only 8% of prison beds nationally these two firms managed to bring in over 3 billion in revenue last year.

Aside from the typical work duties that are needed to maintain a prison (e.g. cooking, janitorial, laundry, etc.), prisons and inmates also function as both factories and factory workers to produce goods and services.


The Federal Prison Industries program (now operating under the trade name UNICOR) was established in 1934 by an Executive Order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. On January 1, 1935, FPI officially began operations as a wholly-owned corporation of the United States Government. Eighty years after its establishment, the program continues to operate at no cost to taxpayers and benefits communities across the Nation creating safer prisons and reducing inmate recidivism.

Prison Policy Initiative reports on Unicor:

  • Percent of able-bodied sentenced federal prisoners required to work in the prison: 100%

  • Number of prisoner workers in UNICOR: 22,560

  • Pay scale for federal prisoners who work outside of UNICOR in prison maintenance, in dollars per hour: $0.12 - $0.40

  • Minimum wage in Haiti in dollars per hour: $0.30

  • Percent of federal prisoner-workers who work for UNICOR rather than in prison maintenance: 25%

  • Minimum UNICOR wage, in dollars per hour: $0.23

  • Maximum UNICOR wage, in dollars per hour: $1.15

  • Number of prisons where UNICOR makes clothing and textiles: 22

  • Average hourly earnings of a non-prisoner U.S. worker in a textile mill: $10.95

  • UNICOR 2001 sales: $583.5 million

  • Amount purchased from UNICOR in 2001 by the Department of Defense: $388 million

  • Amount purchased from UNICOR in 2001 by the U.S. Postal Service: $21 million

  • Number of prisoners UNICOR projected would be in federal prisons in 2009: 211,516

  • Number of prisoner-workers UNCOR planned on hiring in 2009: 31,826

  • Percent of UNICOR orders delivered late: 42%

Prisoners both women and men benefit tremendously from in prison jobs, whether they work in maintenance or out of prison, this is a form of rehabilitation, a way to tackle the dehumanizing boredom inmates experience, they earn money for their expenses inside prison like soap or deodorant, to support their families and they learn skills and work on their self esteem. Work is a vital aspect against recidivism.

Over the past quarter century, there has been a profound change in the involvement of women within the criminal justice system. This is the result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers to reentry that uniquely affect women. The female incarcerated population stands nearly eight times higher than in 1980. More than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18.

This information was reported in June of 2019 by to the Sentencing Project.

"Carcel" the Danish brand.

Both socially and environmentally, we are pursuing a positive impact agenda. Founded in 2016, we produce clothing from natural materials sourced locally in the region of production - Alpaca in Peru, silk and lyocell in Thailand. 

Employees are mostly single mothers incarcerated for nonviolent, poverty-related crimes. Training and wages give them tools to reconnect with their families outside and remap their future. Every piece of CARCEL clothing is signed by its maker.

Eco Warrior Princess writes:

"Still, they’re profiting off incarceration, following in the footsteps of  problematic prison labor practices in the U.S. and elsewhere. The entire model is contingent upon poor, desperate women continuing to be arrested and condemned to long sentences.

So, what’s the problem if the prisons like the project and they’re giving women a chance to earn a living? It’s because this system is driven by opportunism and profit, and fueled by poverty. Using prison labor is not a philanthropic endeavor. They claim that they’re giving women a fair wage, and that that wage is associated with livability, but they use the minimum wage in each area as their baseline. The minimum wage rarely equates to a comfortable living (it certainly doesn’t in the U.S.). 

Carcel is primarily a luxury brand focused on making money. Using cheap labor of any kind to make expensive goods to sell to rich Western women and enrich other wealthy Western women isn’t altruism, it’s just capitalism".

All of this is extremely relevant because there can't be climate justice if there is no social justice.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist, policy advisor, and Brooklyn native. Founder and CEO of the consultancy Ocean Collective, founder of the non-profit think tank Urban Ocean Lab and co-editor of the forthcoming anthology "All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis" wrote for the Washington Post:

"If we want to successfully address climate change, we need people of color. Not just because pursuing diversity is a good thing to do, and not even because diversity leads to better decision-making and more effective strategies, but because, black people are significantly more concerned about climate change than white people (57 percent vs. 49 percent), and Latinx people are even more concerned (70 percent). To put that in perspective, it means that more than 23 million black Americans already care deeply about the environment and could make a huge contribution to the massive amount of climate work that needs to be done".


Prison Policy Initiative

Prison Policy Institute


The Sentencing Project

America Uncovered

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

United States Census

Eco Warrior Princess

Washington Post

New York Times

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Carolina Chavez's clothes: Katharine Hamnett Jacket and Everlane T-shirt.

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