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New Law Addresses Imported Fish Caught by Slaves, Ignores U.S. Prisoner Labor

by Derek Gilna

A law passed by in 2016 by Congress and signed by the President, the Port State Measures Agreement, prohibits the importation of fish caught using slave labor. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry indicated that the new law closed a loophole in the 1930 Tariff Act that prohibits that practice unless there is a shortage of that particular fish in the U.S. market. However, prisoner rights advocates were quick to point out that there is no such prohibition of U.S. companies profiting from the forced labor of prisoners.

The non-profit Human Trafficking Center, the "Center," notes that, "The 13th Amendment reads, 'Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except for punishment of a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States..." According to the Center, exploitive prison labor practices have netted huge profits for many private companies.

The Bureau of Prisons' Federal Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR, earned over $500 million based upon the labor of over 20,000 prisoners, who earn from 23 cents to $1.15 an hour. As a result of this cheap labor, Prison Legal News has noted that UNICOR effectively has forced several domestic companies to severely cut back operations or even close.  UNICOR claims that this cheap labor operation reduces recidivism, but no studies have ever been produced to substantiate this assertion. UNICOR has been accused of using outmoded manufacturing equipment, procedures, and training, leaving released prisoners with little transferable job skills that would enable them to gain employment on the outside.

The Center feels that "Human trafficking organizations must reallocate some of their policy efforts, resources, and awareness campaigns to forced labor within American penitentiaries."  It also notes that the disproportionate incarceration of individuals of color, and the difficulty ex-prisoners face in meaningful post-release employment tends to create a cycle of recidivism that directly contradicts the unsubstantiated claims of UNICOR.

It also advocated that the American prison system spend more resources on prisoner education, mental health treatment, and drug education, and less on prison jobs that provide slave wages, and have not provable benefit to the prisoners obligated to work those exploitive jobs.

See: http://humantraffickingcenter.or,