Originally published July 30 2015
Goldman Sachs invests in solar panels to 'greenwash' corporate-run prison labor camps in the USA
by Daniel Barker
(NaturalNews) Imagine a factory where workers are paid as little as 23 cents per hour to assemble solar panels. Sounds like an overseas sweatshop, right?
Unfortunately, it's happening right here in America, even if most of us aren't aware of it.
Georgia-based Suniva Inc, a solar panel and cell manufacturer backed by Goldman Sachs, is able to exploit prisoners through a cheap labor program run by the government-owned Federal Prison Industries (FPI), also known as Unicor.
The federal program, which was created in the 1930s, is ostensibly intended to "prepare inmates for transitioning to life after their release from prison." The majority of the 12,000 inmates working for Unicor produce goods for government use, but the program has been expanded to attract private contracts as well.
This enabled Suniva to move its operations back to the US (the company had been using cheap overseas labor) while gaining several advantages besides the cheap labor provided by prisoners through Unicor.
Lydia Groom from Reuters noted:
"By making panels in the United States, Suniva has been able to capture lucrative federal contracts, avoid U.S. government tariffs on Chinese-made panels, and appeal to private sector customers who want American-made products."
Slave labor in AmericaThe 13th Amendment outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."
In other words, slavery and forced labor are perfectly legal for prisoners and now private companies can exploit their incarcerated status to keep production costs low and profit margins wide. Suniva reportedly earned around $100 million last year.
From a story posted by AlterNet.org:
"Critics of FPI have long claimed it exploits prisoners who don't have the right to organize for representation to protect their rights and it unfairly competes with small businesses that can't provide goods and services for the average pay of 92 cents an hour FPI workers make."
Others have pointed out that Unicor doesn't provide any support or job placement program for prisoners once they are released. And considering the fact that one's prison record makes finding a job even more difficult upon release, one wonders how effective the program really is in terms of its stated goals.
From all appearances, Unicor is primarily there to serve the interests of "American corporations and the military-industrial complex," as AlterNet.org's Terrell Jermaine Starr put it.
With well over two million prisoners, America by far leads the developed world regarding incarceration rates, meaning there is an ever-abundant supply of slave labor for companies such as Suniva to tap into.
Meanwhile, small businesses lose the ability to compete for government and private contracts. Unicor doesn't have to pay a decent wage or provide insurance and other benefits that small companies have to offer their own workers.
UC Berkeley prison labor abuse researcher Christopher Petrella told AlterNet:
"Prisoners currently don't fall under any fair labor standard practices or umbrellas. So, oftentimes, prisoners will get paid but they aren't afforded the same protections as a worker outside of prison."
Increasingly, the prison system in America seems more interested in making money than in rehabilitating its prisoners.
With programs such as Unicor, run-for-profit prisons, the failed War on Drugs and unparalleled developed world incarceration rates, maybe it's time we take a long hard look at how things are being done here in the United States.
Should we really be providing cheap prison labor to private companies, especially to large companies like Suniva, who have the backing of institutions like Goldman Sachs? Something seems deeply flawed with this approach, especially when it hurts small businesses and workers both behind bars and in the normal labor market.
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