So it’s back to school week for DePaul university and this week, we’re talking about the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM).
It’s also Labor Day so to keep things relevant:
The hope is that you answered “absolutely not!” because it would be terrible to take advantage of another human being that way, right? So it’s expected that you should be equally appalled to see that…
Whole Foods Relies on Prison Labor:
— BlkLiberationProject (@blklibmn) August 29, 2015
There are a lot of problems with the prison industrial complex in the United States. Like the fact that there are people serving life without parole for non-violent drug crimes, or that States spend almost 3x as much money on keeping people in prison than educating them, or that 1 in 15 black men are incarcerated and African Americans represent over 60% of the prison population (despite being only 30% of the total population).
Beyond the issues of the prison system in general, the use of prison labor has been called a form of modern-day slavery. For example, Whole Foods receives products such as fish and cheese from prisoners who make only about 74¢ a day. But…how much did you buy your Whole Foods fish and cheese for? Exactly. This kind of system exploits cheap labor.
A frequent counter argument is that prison employment teaches inmates work skills and ethics, however this is only true if it is done right. As it is now though, prisoners work intensely without learning many new and beneficial skills, and the corporations that profit off of them do not guarantee them jobs upon release or even help them get placed anywhere.
What does Black Lives Matter have to do with this? The tweet pictured above does a good job of explaining it, but basically the prison industrial complex disproportionately affects people of color, specifically African Americans. The book The New Jim Crow states that more black men are in prison today than were enslaved in the 1850s, so this issue is high on the BLM agenda.
Furthermore, historically speaking in the years after the Civil War, prisons were used by many states in the South to re-instate a slavery-like situation, by working a loophole in the 13th amendment:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Thus, using prison labor is highly problematic. There was also that little incident where Whole Foods decided to hand out free sandwiches to the National Guard during the Baltimore protests, instead of the protesters. So at this point, it’s kind of looking like Whole Foods is anti- Black Lives Matter, and more like Black Imprisoned Lives Make Our Products for Free.
What can we, DePaul students, do about this? Well, I have 3 options (by no means an exhaustive list):
- Boycott Whole Foods. I know it’s right on that corner and it’s so easy to buy from there, but if there are enough interested people, we can easily start delivering groceries from a better alternative to dorms and surrounding housing, so we can make clear to Whole Foods that this is absolutely unacceptable.
- Buy from black farmers. Blavity published an article with a few options directly in Chicago, including Healthy Food Hub, the Trinity United Church of Christ summer farmer’s market, and Your Bountiful Harvest Family Farm.
- Eat at local, black owned restaurants. The Blak business directory gives us some great options, including one in Lincoln Park right off the Diversey brown line, Batter & Berries. There’s also Peach’s Restaurant, which is about 15 min South from the Loop campus.
So let’s start this new school year off right. Let’s stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and prove how unified and powerful the DePaul student body is. We shouldn’t stand for Whole Foods’ despicable practices – and should let them know so.
If you’re interested in starting an alternative grocery delivery service for DePaul students in Lincoln Park, comment below or email me at email@example.com