Carcel says its silk is made by female prisoners in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo credit: Eco Warrior Princess

Fashion from Prison Labor: Exploitation or Ethical Business?

Forced LaborSlavery-Free GoodsSupply Chain

Danish fashion brand Carcel — which means prison in Spanish — advertises that its silk is made by women in prison in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The brand asserts that prisoner-made clothing is both ethical and an improvement to their supply chain, insisting that they provide these women with the chance to earn a wage and get job training while in prison.

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But this raises the important question: is prison labor a form of exploitation or an ethical business decision?

Eco Princess Warrior explores this debate:

Carcel claims that their workers can “learn to support themselves, send their children to school, save up for a crime-free future and ultimately break with the cycle of poverty.”

The company’s CEO Veronica d’Souza says, “In our belief, a fair wage in a country should be related to the cost of living, that’s why we use living wages as a baseline for our salaries.”

In Thailand, a spokesperson for the Chiang Mai prison says, “They looked at about 4-5 prisons but finally decided on Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution because we have our own silk factory.”

So, what’s the problem if the prisons like the project and they’re giving women a chance to earn a living? It’s because this system is driven by opportunism and profit, and fueled by poverty. Using prison labor is not a philanthropic endeavor. They claim that they’re giving women a fair wage, and that that wage is associated with livability, but they use the minimum wage in each area as their baseline.

According to the prison in Thailand, the laborers are paid approximately 320 baht per day (roughly US$10 per day)

For many of these women, release from jail will mean continued employment in the garment manufacturing sector, which is notorious for labor exploitation. “Simply providing jobs is not enough to combat poverty if those jobs are dead-end,” stresses Eco Princess Warrior.

At the same time, some will point to female prisoners choosing to do this work for Carcel as it gives them a basic wage and vocational training. While this is true, Eco Princess Warrior argues that this minimum wage job from behind bars is not ethical or challenging a capitalist supply chain model:

“While Carcel is doing some good, keep in mind that it was Western consumers and companies like Carcel that perpetuate global wealth inequality and imperialist attitudes about labor in the developing world.”

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Daria TaxisAngelaRuud SiemVictorMaria Gok Recent comment authors
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Daria Taxis
Daria Taxis

I think it is good, when the women can work in jail. It is good when they get minimum wage (and not less!) If textile industry outside of the jail is notorious for low wages, this has nothing to do with the good possibilities inside of the jail! And what else should they use as wage baseline in jail, but the minimum wage ???


I think it’s good for prisoners to have opportunities to work. It needs transparency and monitoring at a personal and accounting level to ensure it isn’t exploitative compared to good business practice. If women can also save for life after prison it is a way to a better future.


Our Provincial Car Plates are manufactured by Prsioners in one of our prisons and that will provide them thecskill hey can use after they complete their terms. And they are paid the going rate for their labour. So as long as these prisoners are treated well and are paid for their labour in accordance with the law of theirs land, I have no problem with that.

Ruud Siem
Ruud Siem

According to the prison in Thailand, the laborers are paid approximately 320 baht per day (roughly US$10 per day)
I live in Thailand for 13 years. This is a normal salary for 1 day work. So why not work so you lear some skills. The alternatief is do noting, lear noting and come back to the prison soon after relise.

Maria Gok
Maria Gok

Ethically I don’t know where I stand on this. (I’m open to discussion).
On the one hand, these people have committed a crime, and as such should pay their debt to society.
On the other companies shouldn’t be able to profit from this.
Are the wages they are paying reflected in the cost of their products?
I occasionally eat at a restaurant (in Turkey) where all the staff are prisoners. The staff are well treated, they are learning a trade, & the price is reflected in the cost.