Although Whole Foods caters to the “socially conscious” consumer, it relies on prison labour to make a profit.

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This past weekend, protesters from the Teamsters and the Sierra Club group Sierra Rise educated attendees of the annual Natural Products Expo East convention about Whole Food’s exploitation of prison labour for profit.

The protestors distributed leaflets that read “Whole Prison Labor.” The leaflets were also sponsored by the Organic Consumers Association and the Food Chain Workers Alliance. The leaflets explained how Whole Foods purchases tilapia raised by prisoners in Colorado and Missouri, in addition to goat cheese made from goats that are raised and milked by prisoners. These prisoners earn as little as 74 cents per day, while Whole Foods sells the cheese and fish for much more to consumers— the tilapia sells for as much as $11.99 per pound.

Whole-Foods-Prison-Labor-Atavist-875x1024“Although Whole Foods caters to the ‘socially conscious’ consumer, it relies on exploited prison labour to make a profit,” said Steve Vairma, Director of the Teamsters Warehouse Division.

“Unfortunately, we are not surprised at Whole Foods’ abusive behaviour,” continued Vairma. “Whole Foods’ primary supplier, United Natural Foods, Inc, fights viciously whenever its workers try to organize a union so they can have a voice on the job. UNFI even issued death threats to minority workers in Moreno Valley, California.”

Recently, The Black Liberation Project held a protest at the Whole Foods Market in St. Paul, Minnesota to inform customers about the company’s use of prison labor. Protesters provided the names of alternative local markets and black-owned farms to customers.

“We do not believe a company can claim they are ‘socially conscious’ and build profits on the backs of incarcerated Black people,” states the organization’s Facebook page. “Dismantling the Prison Industrial Complex is one of many facets of the Black Liberation Movement.”

Two weeks later, Whole Foods made headlines when a store security guard at a Whole Foods in Oakland, California brutally attacked a black customer. Protests organized by Black Lives Matter over the beating caused the Oakland Whole Foods to shut down as protesters stood in the store demanding an end to anti-Black violence.

A Facebook page promoting the protest states, “This latest brutality is also in context of many ongoing discriminatory practices and anti-Black policies engaged by Whole Foods.” The page listed the company’s use of prison labour, a poor labour record, and its “significant gentrifying force.”

The U.S. has the highest prison population in the world, and those largely affected by the Prison Industrial Complex are people of colour, especially blacks.


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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