Whole Foods plans to stop selling products that are made by prison inmates, after customers protested the practice at one of its Texas locations. The company expects that inmate-produced products will be completely out of its stores by April of next year.
The high-end grocery store says that is has sold tilapia, trout, and goat cheese that was produced through an inmate worker program in Colorado at some of its locations since 2011.
Whole Foods spokesperson Michael Silverman said that the company originally adopted the program in order to help incarcerated people regain control of their lives and become contributing members of society. However, the company will soon end the program because some customers were not comfortable with the practice.
The products in question came from a division of Colorado’s prison system called Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI). The CCI says that its mission is to provide inmates with valuable skills and work ethics that will help them upon release.
The inmates who volunteer for the program are paid up to $4 per day.
The government has utilized the labor from prison inmates for a long time. Inmates carry out such tasks as producing license plates or building office furniture. However, some inmate employment programs are conducted by private companies rather than the government.
While the programs can be extremely beneficial for inmates, there is also the possibility of exploitation by the companies, since the inmates receive wages that are vastly lower than people who are not locked up. Companies might say that they are utilizing the labor from inmates to help out people in trouble, but usually it boils down to saving money.
Prison reform advocate Michael Allen says that Whole Foods was hypocritical in offering products produced by prison inmates.
"They say they care about the community, but they're enhancing their profit off of poor people," he said.
Meanwhile, the companies that do use prison labor say that they are proud of the inmates that contribute to their companies. Representatives from these companies have referred to CCI as a model program.
Colorado Correctional Industries said in 2014 that it employs more than 1,800 inmates, and it plans to double the size of the program during the next decade. Over 80% of inmates who participate in the program for a minimum of six months stay out of prison for at least a year after their release. The national average is only 62%.