There are many products we buy and use daily in our lives where we have no idea about where they come from, who made them and under what conditions. If it is chocolate, clothes or electronics or any other goods we just buy them without any thoughts about the origin, but parts of all those products are made with the use of captive employees around the world (Myers, 2014). Those forced labor workers are compelled to work against their free will with the threat of punishment. The punishments include physical and mental abuse, unlawful detention and in some cases also death (Anti-slavery, 2012). Different forms of oppression in the forced labor industry are bonded labor or debt bondage, that means when a person cannot pay off a debt they are forced to work for low wages, very often the cases are that employer deduct high amounts from the salary for food, accommodation, etc. and then charge high interest rates so that in the end nothing is left, and the people are stuck there for life. Another form is that debt is inherited, this especially affects children in third world countries, this form is called bonded labor. Other forms of forced labor and slavery are when passports are taken away from migrant workers or when children are sold by their parents. (Re & Bales, 2001).
And this are only some cases of how people are exploited nowadays, another example, maybe on the first glance not so clear, is the exploitation of captive employees in prisons. A good example of how to make a profit with inmates is the US-prison system. The beginning of labor in prison in the United States already started in the colonial period and it was initiated for a disciplinary reason and later it was also considered to have a therapeutic and educational value, but it soon was found as a profitable industry to let prisoners work (Conley, 1980). The use of forced labor is a large-scale issue worldwide with over 25 million people affected most of them in Asia and Africa but there are also around 1.5 million people afflicted in the European Union and the United States (Anti-slavery, 2012). But on the other side according to the International Labor Organization, the use of captive employees creates an annual profit of 150 billion US dollar (Ryder, 2014). This essay will deal with the questions if the economic profit made with captive employees can be morally justified? To answer this central question a literature review will be used. The literature consisted of various academic articles on the prison system of the United States and the forced labor industry worldwide with a focus on Bangladesh. In this article, it is argued that under certain circumstances the use of captive employees can be morally legitimate, but it will also refer to examples where a lot of improvement is needed to have the economic benefits outweigh the moral scruples. Below, first to understand the connection between economic profit and captive employees the article will discuss the use of prisoners as an obliged workforce, in the United States. Secondly, the paper will have a look at the economic profits of the captive labor market and if companies are better off when they are using cheap labor.
In economically developed countries the biggest market for captive employees is the prison system and solely the prison population in the US is around 2 million people, that’s around 25% of prisoners worldwide! For companies that means a large workforce, low labor costs (sometimes only 16-25 cents an hour), no costs for insurances, consideration of vacations or the payment of a holiday surcharge. A paradise for companies and investors. The prison industry complex is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States with millions of dollars invested every year. The only problem they are facing that the crime rate is going down, which would mean fewer prisoners and a smaller workforce that is why big cooperations were lobbying the government to create new laws to keep the workforce in prison (Pelaez, 2008). Cooper, Heldman, Ackerman, & Farrar-Meyers (2016) have revealed with the help of leaked documents from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that ALEC is planning to expand the private prison industry, prison labor and longer sentences. The approach to expanding prison labor by private corporation should lead to even bigger profits than the billion dollars they are already making in annual revenues. To have enough prisoners to work ALEC was focusing on bills that increase the size of the prison population. Their tactics to expanding the number of inmates is to expand definitions of existing crimes, to create new crimes, to lengthen prison sentences and to enhance enforcement of existing crimes.
Unfortunately, not only corruption, low wages and no public benefits are issues for working inmates, in some cases also inhume working conditions. A court case in Arkansas revealed that inmates, were woken at four in the morning, had to work for more than eight hours on fields in the sun with a low water supply and when they wanted to make a break, due to the fact of the hot weather, they received penalties. During the court case, cruel and unusual punishment methods were discovered. Prisoners were beaten, packed into unliving quarters, forced to work extra shifts and some guards refused to hand out food to prisoners which lead to undernourishment. This case, and other, led to more supervision of the state over prisons (Gilmore, 2000).
However, work programs for prisoners were not established to have an inexpensive labor source and to exploit prisoners, the purpose was to help inmates with rehabilitation and preparation for the time after their release. And there are working models which reduce the recidivism rates and the employment rates. For example, studies conducted on the question: If it is easier for prisoners to find a job after their release if they have worked during their time in prison or not? Prisons in Florida could demonstrate a 60% success rate of inmates that found a job post-release with the help of the work experience they gained and a job program, which was supported by the prison. (Network, 2016). Some even reported models where business managers went into prisons to look for skilled and talented personnel, worked with them during their time they were locked up, paid them a normal wage of 17 dollars an hour and employed them, after the release, into their company. These are of course not the rule, but it shows the there is a positive social effect on inmates who get the chance to work in a good job environment and when they receive help instead of being exploited their time in prison and afterwards can be positively affected (Economist, 2017). Furthermore, there are good economic arguments to justify prison labor if the working conditions are upheld at a good standard. Their work helps to subsidize the high costs of running a prison, attractive reasoning for taxpayers and for politicians alike. Even though, as a result, fiscal reasons and not rehabilitation have been the most popular arguments of politicians when it comes to prison labor. Another economic argument for the private use of prison labor is economic growth. Some studies show that if the whole prison population participates in jail work programs it could increase the total productivity of the United States by an estimated 20 billion dollar a year. Nevertheless, the public is still worried about the use of prison labor, an example was Whole Foods when customers found out that Whole Foods is selling products produced with the help of inmates, they voiced concerns about it and Whole Foods agreed to cut ties with the suppliers afflicted (Kang, 2009). Summarizing the argumentations of this paragraph, if there is a fair use of captive employees in the private or public market under regulated conditions, there can be benefits for the prisoners, the public and for cooperation alike.
After analyzing captive employment in the prison system, the paper will now give a short overview on the moral concerns linked to sweatshop workers in the third world on the example of the textile industry in Bangladesh and it seeks to challenge the main argument in favour of forced labor, the economic profit. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of garments worldwide with exports of clothes worth billions of dollars each year. The reason they can export a large quantity like that are very efficient factories. Although the factories are dangerous, every year hundreds of workers die in deadly accidents due to overcrowded buildings, limited oversight and a government that repressed all efforts of the people who tried to fight for better working conditions (Abrahms & Sattar, 2017). Sill there is no lack of workers who would work in unsafe facilities and produce garments for around 36 cents an hour, but what are the reasons, therefore? First people do not really have a choice they can choose between earning low wages, dangerous working conditions and long working hours or not having a job at all. Secondly, persons who are affected by sweatshops mostly live in conditions of desperate poverty and even small gains or also losses can make a tremendous impact in their lives. Morally this are reasons enough to take the topic of sweatshop workers seriously (Powell & Zwolinski, 2012).Many people would probably want to know now why there are no improvements in working standards and the treatment of the employees. There have been a couple of efforts by activist groups in the past years, but because of high corruption in the government most of the activists got arrested or were threatened with consequences. The only way changes are possible is through the big brands who have their clothes produced in Bangladesh. Billion-dollar brands like H or Zara have a lot of leverage with the local factories and governments to enforce a change and they are trying to improve the situation of the workers but unfortunately, they only do it in small steps (Stewart, 2014).
The moral question of products being produced by families in third world countries is being debated for years and is a dilemma for every cooperation using goods affected. Nichols (1993) discussed the moral question with managers and professors of big brands and universities in America, who know about at the working conditions of the employees in the factories of subcontractors and are trying to find solutions. First, she talked with Johan Stein vice president of Timothy & Thomas about the what he has experienced in the production plants he was visiting. He described the situation he found on site shockingly at first because girls younger than 14 years old were working there with their mothers instead of being in school and throughout his time in Asia it was difficult for him to adapt to the circumstances. Even though the local sourcing manager of Timothy & Thomas explained to him that things just go differently here, every contractor employs children and the mothers are happy about it, otherwise the girls would have to stay home alone, and the families need the money to survive and the mothers know they are safe with them here. Is this answer justifying the situation or is it just a convenient rationale for looking the other way? After all, if companies would force contractors not to use child labor anymore and pay higher wages it would send production costs, at least temporarily, through the roof. But what should managers do to find a suitable solution for everyone?
Peter A. Jacobi president of global sourcing for the brand Levi Strauss & Co has faced similar problems with contractors of them in Asia. He describes the solution they found to prevent children working under 14 years old, without bringing severe hardship to the children and their families. The company worked with the contractors to pay the children of the families a salary, so they could afford school until they turn 14 years old with the understanding that they will be offered a job by then. Of course, this policy is not a perfect solution, but it helps to improve the positions of families. David L. Lindauer, professor of economics at the Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, is focusing his research on labor-market behavior in developing nations and he is suggesting a different approach. In his opinion, the best result would be gained if the foreign and domestic employer, begin to effetely work with the government on a set of meaningful guidelines for factory workers and the use of child labor. In addition, he mentions that a necessary condition for the elimination of child labor is the absorption of excess supplies of domestic labor and the following increase in wages. With rising wages, families would not be compelled to send their children to work and for companies, it would mean to make operations more productive and that would require more skilled employees and fewer children as workers.
Returning to the question if prison labor can be morally justified, the next paragraph will discuss the arguments mentioned earlier in the paper. The main position against working inmates are the motives of politicians and cooperation’s who have a monetary origin in their decisions above everything else. To improve the system a start would be to pay a normal wage to working prisoners. This would give them a new element of control over their situation and a greater ability to negotiate their conditions of treatment (WEISS, 2001). Furthermore, if the working conditions would reach the same standards for prisoners as for the rest of the populations working captive employees could be morally justified and their products bought without a second thought. Furthermore, successful participants of work programs are less likely to re-offend or return to prison which results in a safer society, higher purchasing power and a better economic situation in the country (Reyes, 2016).
The research question of this paper was if the economic profit made with captive employees can be morally justified? After analyzing and discussing this question on the topics prison labor in the United States and textile workers in third world countries, the following hypothesis was formulated: Profit made with captive employees can be morally justified, if the work and the working conditions improve their living situation, respects the local labor standards and makes the people afflicted better off then without the work. To strengthen this hypothesis more research about the living situation of people affected by forced labor, especially in third world countries would be essential. Furthermore, to get a more detailed answer to the research question the issues of the lack of choice, the people affected of captive employment most of the time have, would need to be addressed in a more specific way. To achieve a more meaningful answer, research over a longer period on site is required. A vital question for further research would be: How would consumers change their purchasing behavior if products are identified with captive labor, like for example bio products nowadays?
Summarizing, the topic of captive employment used to make economic profit and if it can be justified with the money made is a difficult and complicated one. It is hard to generalize and to find a one fits all solution because every market, in every country were captive labor takes place needs an individual and different approach for improvements and solutions. What became clear early while researching about forced labor is that there are people affected all around the world. From farmers in South America to prisoners in the United Sates to children in a garment factory in Bangladesh captive labor is a 150-billion-dollar income source for businesses and governments on every continent. The goal of this paper was to analyze the connection between captive employees and economic profits and the moral concerns which come along with it. Firstly,