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.”