By Letter to the Editor on October 14, 2020.
Slavery applies the principle of property to people: individuals may own, buy or sell other individuals. Throughout history prominent societies and religions bore its evil stamp. The Bible has long been invoked as justification by Christian slave owners, including those in North America.
In the United States slavery remains legal. The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution 1865 abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for conviction of a crime. Southern states quickly capitalized upon that exception by contriving new criminal laws for loitering and vagrancy, ensuring a steady supply of prison slave labour. And prison slaves make ideal workers; no complaints, wages, benefits, pensions, holidays, overtime, sick days or safety rules.
Today almost all U.S. prisons are contracted out to private for-profit corporations forming a lucrative high-growth industry. From 1970 to 2015 the U.S. prison population exploded 700 per cent to over 2.2 million, highest per-capita in the world – more prisoners, higher profits.
Gifted by free labour, prison contractors have established in-prison facilities to supply the external market with inexpensive goods and services. Major corporations sharing windfall profits from prison slave labour include McDonald’s, Starbucks, Walmart, Wendy’s, Caterpillar, Quaker Oats, Mary Kay, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Revlon, Dell and IBM. In 2013 Corrections Corporations of America, the largest U.S. operator of private prisons with over 81,000 inmates, grossed $1.7 billion in revenue yielding a profit of $300 million.
The Slavery Abolition Act 1834 in Britain ended the wretched two centuries of slavery in the remaining British North American colonies. But in 1966 Canada introduced the temporary foreign worker program, a thinly disguised version of indentured servitude, often termed slavery light. The annual influx of some 50,000 workers from Mexico and the Caribbean tied to specific employers is essential to agribusiness, the nation’s fourth-largest export industry.
Investigations have shown time and again, and yet once more during Covid-19, that these people labour under dangerous intolerable conditions with little access to health and social services, and live in overcrowded squalour with primitive unhygienic facilities, surveillance and controlled entrance and exit.
Guests whom we invite to our country to perform a valuable service should be treated with respect, dignity, and humanity, not racist slavery light.