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Boycotting Corporations: An effective means of protesting against Mass Incarceration?

Multinational retail industries allow wholesale and consumer goods to be purchased at relatively cheap prices, thus propelling such corporations to grow to new heights in both size and popularity. While the top of the corporate food chain reaps the benefits of such accomplishments, incarcerated individuals bear the brunt of the work, burdening their bodies with labor that often goes unpaid.

Having Incarcerated people perform labor? Isn’t that illegal?

No, it is not. Under the 13th Amendment which states that “Neither slavery nor indentured servitude, except as a punishment of crime whereof the party shall be dully convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place of their jurisdiction.”

Though many argue that it is justified to punish those who have committed crimes by performing labor in reparation for their actions, we must consider restorative methods, such as mental health facilities, over punishment. Having incarcerated people perform unpaid/significantly low waged labor is not a restorative method, but rather a punishment and a way to justify corporate greed.

What’s the motive for large corporations to use labor from incarcerated people?

The Malta Justice Initiative states how “companies are free to avoid providing benefits [to incarcerated workers] like health insurance or sick days. They also don’t need to worry about unions, demands for vacation time, raises or family issues.”

Thus, large corporations have a direct incentive to perpetuate mass incarceration, further hindering progress in turning to restorative justice methods; few corporations want to advocate on behalf of the very institution they profit from.

The largest beneficiaries from the labor of incarcerated people are the largest multinational corporations such as McDonalds, Walmart, Starbucks, etc.

Will Boycotts on these companies be effective?

Yes. In an era of digital activism, the effects of boycotting have the potential to be profound, but it has to be focused. In instances of private companies exploiting incarcerated labor, we must collectively focus our attention and boycott a select few companies that are the largest drivers of unpaid incarcerated labor to yield a tangible impact.

Why should our boycotting be focused on a few select companies? Why can’t we boycott every company that uses Mass Incarceration?

Unfortunately, due to private companies that exploit incarcerated people for labor, it is impractical for the individual to boycott every single company, as many of the companies aforementioned are essential businesses. In addition, boycotts are only ever productive when a large mass unifies against those corporations. To cause a ripple in the trend, we must start at the core: the mass contributors and beneficiaries.

McDonalds, Victoria’s Secret, and Walmart. Make them pay.


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