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Houston protest against prison labor at Whole Foods

By Fabian Van Onzin and Adam Gann |
September 26, 2015
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Houston, TX - About 30 people protested outside of Whole Foods in the River Oaks area of Houston, Sept. 26, demanding that they end the exploitation of prison labor. Organizations involved were End Mass Incarceration, the Peoples New Black Panther Party and the IWW.

Protesters say that Whole Foods Market uses prison labor for many of its products in order to generate super-profits. For example, the cheese sold at Whole Foods is made by prisoners who make 60 cents a day, yet the cheese sells at $12 a pound. Inmates within the Alabama and Texas prison systems are calling for protests against this exploitation. A majority of the inmates are African Americans and it is clear that the use of prison labor arises out of the national oppression faced by African Americans in the Black Belt south.

Protesters surrounded the store, mobilizing at entrances, with signs that said, “Fight prison exploitation,” “Prisoners are human beings,” and “Whole Foods uses slave labor.” Many demonstrators had bullhorns, and chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, prison labor has got to go,” which attracted a lot of attention from shoppers. Shoppers stopped to ask questions, and some even left to go shop somewhere else when they learned about Whole Food’s use of prison labor.

During the demonstration, a representative of Whole Foods’ management came out to speak to demonstrators. She stated that she had just received word from their corporate office that all products at Whole Foods produced by prison labor would be pulled from the shelves by next April and was annoyed when someone asked why they couldn’t remove the products immediately.

While it was a victory, it was noted by some that Whole Foods, as all capitalist corporations, will just shift the exploitation to farmers and workers in the Third World and that the exploitation of prisoners by other corporations will continue. A discussion amongst the protesters developed about the limitations of reforms and the necessity to fight for a revolution that can end capitalism, in order to liberate all working people and oppressed nationalities.

Michael Allen, with End Mass Incarceration (Houston), says, “We realize that the use of prison labor is part of the broader problem of capitalist exploitation, and that we can only emancipate prisoners by ending capitalism. However, we are protesting today to draw attention to the fact that Whole Foods Market exploits prison labor to generate massive profits, to draw attention to the larger systemic causes.”