Prison Labor

Corporate involvement in prison labor is limited compared with other sectors of the prison industry. While some industries, like the prison phone, food, and health systems, for example, are highly and sometimes entirely privatized, corporate involvement in prison labor is typically less direct and harder to research.

Most of the labor performed by incarcerated individuals in the U.S. is used to carry out the daily operations of the prisons that incarcerate them (i.e., to maintain the prison system itself), thereby lowering their cost to the public. A small fraction of people who work have jobs that produce goods or services, mostly for the state that incarcerates them, and less often for the private sector. Other companies may be involved in other ways.

Our research on corporate involvement in prison labor includes:

  • Companies that use incarcerated workers to maintain and operate the prisons in which they are held. This includes, for example, private prison operators CoreCivic and GEO Group, as well as prison food service provider Aramark.
  • Companies that use prison labor to produce products and services for state agencies. This includes, for example, products like Virco furniture and services like operating phone lines at call centers run by privately-owned company Televerde. This information can typically be gleaned from the online catalogs of state "correctional industry" agencies.
  • Companies that directly operate prison labor programs, mostly through the federal Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP), and whose products end up in the private market. These are almost entirely privately-owned small and local businesses, but also companies like Shaw Industries, owned by publicly-traded Berkshire Hathaway.
  • Companies that have prison labor in their supply chains by, for example, sourcing from PIECP programs. It is likely that every large U.S. retailer has prison labor in its supply chain, unless it takes measures to prevent this. Without corporate auditing and public disclosures, such as Costco's and Home Depot's, information can only surface anecdotally, as in the case of Walmart and TJX. In many cases, companies whose involvement in prison labor is exposed quickly end their involvement. That was the case, for example, with Whole Foods, Victoria's Secret, and a host of other major brands who still appear on online prison labor "blacklists."
  • Companies that supply and equip prison labor programs. For example, 3M provides the materials for making license plates and other products in many state prison labor systems. We do not include all contractors of prison labor agencies, but only the ones that provide materials or equipment specifically used in prison labor programs.
  • Companies that sponsor the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA). We presume they have a stake in the prison labor industry through one of the above involvements, but sometimes we cannot find public information about the nature of their involvement.

For a general overview of state and federal prison labor programs, as well as a brief discussion of prison labor conditions, see here.

The list of companies involved in this sector
Select private companies are listed below publicly-traded companies.
(!) symbol means this company is on our divestment list
Publicly-Traded Companies
USA

3M Company is a conglomerate corporation operating in the manufacturing, health care, and consumer goods industries. 3M Supplies materials for prison labor programs and for weapon systems used against civilians.

A US-based provider of food service, facility management services, and uniforms globally. Provides food and other logistical services to prisons and immigration detention facilities and uses forced prison labor.

A US-based conglomerate holding company and investment firm. Its subsidiary Shaw Industries uses prison labor. Other subsidiaries provide equipment, utilities, and uniforms to prisons and jails.

The world’s largest private prison corporation. Owns and manages over 100 correctional, detention, and other residential reentry facilities. Provides the government with other services as part of the criminal punishment system.

One of the largest retailers in the US. Has prison labor in its supply chain.

The world's 2nd largest private prison company and the largest "community corrections" and e-carceration business. Owns and operates prisons and immigrant detention centers in the US and abroad. Provides the government with other services as part of the criminal punishment system.

The world’s largest retailer. Uses prison labor in its supply chain.

This page was last updated on
9 November 2021