Female prisoners at the HM Prison Bronzefield in Surrey, England are paid around $15 per week to produce designer “dust bags” for high-end purses sold in the most exclusive shops. The prison, operated by for-profit company Sodexo, said the project, called “Stitch in Time,” is coordinated by Blue Sky Inside, a charity established in 2005 to help ex-offenders gain job skills.
However, most of the fashion houses using the prison-made bags have been shy about publicizing the fact that the fashion accessories are made by prisoners earning far less than minimum wage. Brora, Anya Hindmarch and Sue Bonham are brands that have ordered the prison-crafted products.
Blue Sky claims it has no part in setting prison wages, which are determined by the National Offenders Management Service, though the agency says prisoners who participate in the project are paid slightly more than the average weekly prison wage.
A spokesperson for Anya Hindmarch stated, “We are incredibly proud to support this project. A small amount of our protective cotton packaging is produced by Blue Sky Inside. Sourcing this cost us more money. However, we see the project making a real difference to women trying to get their lives back on track.”
There is certainly merit to improving prisoners’ job skills, but the likelihood of prisoners being employed to make the same dust bags for expensive purses after they get out is minimal.
More than 10,000 bags are made at HM Prison Bronzefield each year, and the women making them work up to 25 hours a week at approximately $.60 per hour.
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