As awareness and anger grows over the way companies profit from cheap forced labor in prisons, brands that say they are seeking to empower women prisoners by giving them jobs producing clothing are also facing scrutiny and criticism.
Louise van Hauen and Veronica D’Souza, the founders of Danish brand Carcel, have said they were inspired to begin hiring women inmates after discovering that most women in prisons across the world “were mothers who were there because of poverty-related crimes.” Over the past two years, Carcel has worked with women at a Peruvian prison in Cusco to produce luxury fashion items that they sell at a premium.
Peruvian prison authorities have declared the project an unequivocal success that they say has both bolstered prisoners’ self-esteem and provided them with skills to help them find employment upon their release. According to D’Souza, the labor shouldn’t be perceived as exploitive since they pay the women on par with the rate of local elementary school teachers. The inmates’ earnings are reportedly benchmarked against the minimum wage, with women making between $180 and $329 a month, depending on the prisoner’s level of experience producing the garments.
Teodomira Quispe Pérez, a 51-year-old convict and mother of six imprisoned at the Cusco prison for drug-trafficking, said that Carcel’s arrival at the prison had been transformative for her and other inmates.
“When I got here eight years ago, this prison was a really sad place,” she said. “I am looking forward to getting out and buying my own machine. Working in this textile workshop takes me away from my imprisonment.”
Nonetheless, questions about the ethics of using prisoners to make a profit continue to dog Carcel. On Twitter, van Hauen and D’Souza recently came under heavy fire from critics who accused the company of rebranding exploitation as opportunity.
You pay the imprisoned women $15/item, meanwhile you mark it up 300% and make a $180 profit/item. pic.twitter.com/BKUbc7dwT5
— &rew (@andyorwhatever) February 10, 2019
You choose this country and these women specifically because the local living wage was low and because these women are incarcerated- you targeted them. That’s not an opportunity for them, it’s an opportunity for you to profit. You’re rebranding *PRISON LABOUR* as #ethicalfashion
— Meric (@BarefootPanic) February 11, 2019
Read the full story at The New York Times.
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