Prison slave labor

March 17, 2020

From the March-April 2020 issue of News & Letters

Petersburg, Va.—I reported several months back that federal prisoner slave labor was producing comic books for the U.S. market. It now appears that prison slave labor has penetrated further into the mainstream.

To recap, the UNICOR corporation pays federal prisoners from 23¢ to $1.15 per hour, often working 15½-hour shifts, with unpaid lunch and dinner times, but no other breaks. UNICOR is not supposed to compete with U.S. companies or give them the benefits of slave labor. Nevertheless, UNICOR prints comic books and graphic novels clearly intended for the U.S. market, under the ostensible justification that they do it for Japanese companies.

Now, UNICOR has moved beyond the limited market of “independent” comics. UNICOR at Petersburg Low is cutting advertisements that state Estée Lauder makes the “#1 Foundation in the U.S.”

The front of the advertising card shows three models, all in black turtlenecks. It reads, “Free 10-day sample. See details.” The back lists three products: “Stay-in-Place Makeup,” “Radiant Concealer,” and “Matte Powder Foundation.”

It is unclear whether the cards are intended for mailings or magazines or trays in shops. They have no instructions on how to obtain the sample.

What is clear is that these cards are processed by prisoners at the Petersburg Low UNICOR. There is no indication on the cards of prison slave labor. Their origins are concealed.

—Eric Pepke

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