BP Caught Exploiting Cheap Prison Labor To Clean Up The Oil Spill

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BP has been caught red-handed using dirt cheap prison labor to clean up the oil spill along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico as thousands upon thousands of non-inmates beg for work.  So why would BP use prison labor when there are so many others who would gladly do the work?  Well, prison labor costs far, far less of course.  As bad as this is for BP’s public image, the truth is that we should not be too hard on them.  After all, exploiting cheap labor around the world has become an obsession for the big global corporations that dominate our economy.  To these gigantic global predators, the American Dream is not about providing good jobs so that middle class Americans can buy homes and send their kids to college.  No, to these behemoths the goal is to find the closest thing to slave labor that they can so that they can dramatically increase their profits.


So yes, it is wrong that BP has been using cheap or free prison labor to clean up the oil spill.  But the truth is that they can defend themselves by saying that “everyone else is doing it” and they would be right.  We have set up a system where the exploitation of labor is highly rewarded.

In a recent article for The Nation, Abe Louise Young shined a light on BP’s hiring practices down in the Gulf.  It turns out that people highly objected to seeing workers with uniforms that said “Inmate Labor” on them, so now BP is being much more sneaky about things….

I got an answer one evening earlier this month, when I drove up the gravel driveway of the Lafourche Parish Work Release Center jail, just off Highway 90, halfway between New Orleans and Houma. Men were returning from a long day of shoveling oil-soaked sand into black trash bags in the sweltering heat. Wearing BP shirts, jeans and rubber boots (nothing identifying them as inmates), they arrived back at the jail in unmarked white vans, looking dog tired.

Now, it must be admitted that cleaning up the oil on these beaches is not a good job.  In fact, there are some very real health hazards that come along with cleaning this stuff up.

So the loss of these jobs is not really worth getting all worked up over.

However, what is worth getting worked up about is the tens of millions of good jobs that have been shipped off to China, India and a host of third world nations.

Today, a very high percentage of the products that we buy in “big box” retail stores are manufactured in close to slave labor conditions on the other side of the globe.

We certainly enjoy the “low, low prices” that we get as a result of this cheap labor, but then we wonder why Steve, John and Frank down the street are out of work and can’t get jobs no matter what they do.

The truth is that there are approximately 6 unemployed Americans for every single job opening out there today.

There are not nearly enough jobs for everyone, and that is not going to change any time soon.

Once great manufacturing cities such as Detroit are now so run down that they look like war zones.


Well, we allowed the big global corporations to ship their jobs overseas so that we could save a little bit of money on all the plastic crap that we keep filling our shopping carts with.

But in the end, we are still paying the price.

You see, now instead of our economy providing jobs for America’s working class, we now have to give an increasing number of them handouts just so they can survive.

Without jobs, people cannot take care of themselves or their families, so the taxpayers have to end up taking care of them.

For the first time in U.S. history, more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that number will go up to 43 million Americans in 2011.

21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010, which is the highest rate in 20 years.

So, yes, in the end our society ends up paying a very high cost for all of the “low price” products from China and the third world.

Meanwhile, the very wealthy are doing quite well.  It turns out that exploiting cheap labor around the globe is very lucrative.

According to Harvard Magazine, 66% of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.

Does that seem fair to you?

Not that it is wrong to make money.  Making money is a good thing.  But is there not something wrong with a system where 66% of the income growth goes to 1% of the people?

The truth is that the very rich are getting much richer while the rest of us are increasingly struggling.

For example, only the top 5 percent of all U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.

Are you stretched to the max trying to pay for your home?

You are not alone.  Tens of millions of American families are up to their eyeballs in debt and are trying to figure out how to survive from month to month.

The reality is that the middle class is being squeezed like they never have been before.

The current economic system does not value the labor of working class Americans.  In fact, hiring American workers is seen as a big negative in today’s economic environment.

Unless something fundamentally changes, and right now that does not seem very likely, an increasing number of Americans are going to become chronically unemployed and jobs are going to become even more scarce.

America is rapidly being deindustrialized and American workers are being increasingly merged into the new “global” labor pool.  If we allow this to continue, our standard of living will eventually match the standard of living that we see around the rest of the globe.

Is that what you really want?


  • Gary

    Very good article. What I find amusing is that the ex-CEO of HP is trying to buy the election in CA. The same CEO who shipped hundreds (thousands?) of good paying jobs overseas. If the people of CA are dumb enough to vote for her they deserve what they get.

    You also need to add the business in the USA that hire illegals for poverty wages and thus denying an American a job. It is because of these greedy businesses that the border issue is still not resolved. All we pretty much have left are low paying crap service jobs. This article did not even go into the number of UNDEREMPLOYED people making 1/2 or less than they made before this republican great recession began.

    I think this article strongly supports my tax the rich and spread the wealth solution. If the top 1% have gotten 66% of the growth them the need to be taxed hard. I love hearing them wine about their bush tax cuts expiring. I feel so bad for them-NOT!

  • Justa Guy

    I am starting to agree with Gary. We are always told “but if you tax the rich, they won’t have the money to expand business and create more jobs”, blah blah blah. They aren’t creating jobs for Americans anyway, only 3rd world workers, either here illegally or abroad. If they won’t reinvest some money into the country that made them wealthy in the first place, then the country ought to take from them to sustain the people who made them wealthy. Trickle down economics doesn’t work…the people on the bottom are in a severe drought, and only a few drops seep down. It has always been apparent to me that “free trade” would never be a positive thing for the higher paid workers (Americans), only for the lower paid ones. The only time Americans will be able to compete with other workers in the world is (a) if our wages and benefits sink to their level, (b) if their wages/benefits rise to our level (hahaha), or some combination of the 2. Don’t believe it when the elite tell you they are for plan B, that they want to help other countries advance. Vote all Democrats and Republicans out of office, replace with Independents, and hope for some real change.

  • Greg

    Use a search engine and look up topics like “detention camps america”, “guillotines america”, “boxcar shackles america”, “kbr detention camps”, etc. You will conclude that there is a LOT of misinformation on the web or that we are all going to be slaves (or dead) in the near future. Gary and Justa, I think we are dealing with a bigger problem than taxes.

  • This use by BP of prisoner labor is but the latest in an ongoing shift whereby private sector jobs that are not shipped offshore are being sent to prisons nationwide. For a full listing of the PIECP program that is allowing the private sector job losses and documents listing those US Corporations participating in this program please visit: http://www.piecp-violations.com

    Bob Sloan – Prison industry Consultant

  • Spencer

    Cry me a river, they’ve just posted a 17 billion dollar loss for a single quarter. They are reeling and spending like mad to try to clean this up. Firstly, I’d like to see you post what the ratio of inmates to other workers is….this may very well be a tiny minority, at which point you’re totally taking some little issue and blowing it up to feed your agenda of wanting to whine about big business.
    Secondly: If there were no threat of silly labor unions jumping in trying to get more money then the people are worth, then I’m sure they’d be a lot more open to hiring more laborers.

    Gary – your tax the rich and spread the wealth is foolishness. When Clinton dropped the capital gains tax, capital gains tax revenue increased. When Bush dropped them further, the revenue increased further. When Obama lets those tax cuts expire, tax revenue won’t go up, wealth will not be spread around, the government won’t get any more money. It’s simpletons like you who don’t understand how taxation works that have allowed governments like the current one get in power and tax everyone and their dogs. But I guess Obama’s belief that it’s ‘fair’ to increase taxes on capital gains is rational enough to decrease government revenues. Moron.

    If you think increasing taxes will increase government revenues, think again. If you don’t get it, start at both extremes: if the government taxed 0%, or 100%, they’d get 0$ in revenue. In one case because they take nothing, in the other because there would be no incentive to make money. At 99%, they’d likely still get 0, at 98…a tiny tiny bit. So on and so forth. There’s a balance in order to maximize revenues and history shows us that it’s at around 20-25%. Any higher and the increase in corruption, and money games (shipping out of country, moving to less taxed areas, etc…) actually makes tax income decrease. If you tax all the millionaires a special head tax, they’ll just move somewhere that doesn’t do that to them.

    The end person who gets hurt when you raise taxes, is YOU and the poor…not the wealthy people you so dearly complain about. If you tax oil companies higher, they will pass the added cost onto the product, which means I pay more for fuel at the pump, as well as you, as well as other hard working people. It’s that simple.

    The more you tax gains from investments, the more of a deterrent it is to save and invest. As the old saying goes, if you want more of something, subsidize it. If you want less of something, tax it. By taxing capital gains, there’s less reason to save and invest and try to one day have enough set aside to retire.

    Get off your silly socialist pulpit and actually learn something about economics.

  • Elise

    I understand the initial urge to be angry that those cleaning jobs are going to underpaid jail inmates, but are you really willing to sacrifice 20-30 years of healthy living just to earn a couple bucks? The people working in the cleanup effort are unfortunately doing it at the expense of their life. Look at the Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska: they are almost ALL DEAD. Age expectancy of that group? 51 years! Personally, you would pay me 500k and I would NOT do it. Seriously. My life is worth more than that. Damn, I would enlist in the war in Afghanistan before shoveling oil! At least my odds would be better…

    No one should be desperate enough for money to work under these circumstances. And those who still do well, I lift my hat to you. I would probably not mind as much if most of my life was behind me, but such is not the case. Those who are working there right now are the most courageous bunch of people I can think of.


  • Greg

    Spencer – excellent post but I don’t think you are going to get through to Gary. Perhaps you will help people like Justa Guy who are getting swayed by his incessant moronic ravings.
    Elise – regarding Afghanistan, you would be in more trouble over there because we are decimating that area with depleted uranium and it is already wiping out all of Iraq and killing our soldiers that have served in that unjustified genocide we are carrying out over there. As far as the workers on the oil cleanup being courageous, are you aware that the prisoners who refuse to do work detail not only won’t get early release credit but they will also get credit erased if they have already accrued good-time?

  • Elise

    Greg – Hum, it’s not too surprising that they take away credits if you refuse to do work, but at the same time, I can understand that community work IS part of the deal. Only, I would much rather be assigned to cleanup along highways than cleaning oil! These guys are not slaves; they should at least get a bit of a say in what kind of work they get to do. As for courageous, I meant it for those who actually willingly go out there to help, not the prisoners (perhaps I didn’t phrase it properly?).

    Do you care to elaborate about the uranium situation in Afghanistan? Aside from knowing they are sitting on the biggest unexploited amount in the world, I’m not aware of what you’re talking about. And of course, I would NEVER EVER be enrolling into the army, I personally can’t stand war and suffering, it’s just wrong.

    Spencer – I agree with you too. Most people unfortunately do not understand this principle until it has been thoroughly explained to them with numbers. I have the chance to share my life with someone who owns a business and understands these things inside and out. Taxing the rich will just make them run elsewhere, and that is not what America needs. On the contrary, giving out tax breaks to companies who set foot in your country is the best way to lure them over. In Canada, the rich are very taxed (about 50% if you make over 150,000$), BUT the government just LOVES to hand out money to companies and finances them, and sometimes even finances part of the salaries, which keeps them high, and the government gets in back in tax returns. Where I believe they could be taxing, first on lottery gains (in Canada they are not taxed and it’s just RIDICULOUS), and also on stock options cash-ins, like those in finance with say a 50k base salary, but then based on profits and performance, they rake in an extra 100k in options and only half of this money being taxed. These are covered up salaries and should be treated as such. They estimate that about 1.25 billion dollars in taxes are lost this way (multiply that by 10 for the US) I’m not sure if this is the case in the US, but this is how it goes north of the border. Is it the same for you guys (I know that lottery is taxable in your case)?

  • Greg

    Elise – I suspected that you were probably referring to the nonprisoners but I took the opportunity to point out how the prisoners are being abused. We are becoming a slave labor nation with staggering statistics of the percent of our population that is incarcerated.

    Regarding the depleted uranium, cuttingedge.org has an entire section on that topic at http://www.cuttingedge.org/news/depleted-uranium.html. You will be appalled at what we have done to the people over there and to our own soldiers. The first question an Iraqi mother asks after giving birth is “is it normal”? I encourage you to look up information from other sources as well by typing in key words.

    I believe that you are Canadian? Hopefully you are far enough away from America when God releases his judgment on us that you don’t get singed.

  • Elise

    Greg – I just read the research paper on Depleted Uranium, and it’s quite shocking. I’m a bit saddened by the fact that this is not reaching the traditional medias. People get sick from this and no one knows about this! If the population knew about this, it would not go over too well, I’m guessing there would be a lot of political pressure being done to stop the use (although private agendas and money always wins in these cases). Of course since we’re spreading the dust somewhere else, it’s never quite as bad as if it were home… America is the center of the world after all! (sarcasm)

    I am in fact Canadian, from Montreal. I’m pretty well situated I think, mainly we sit on one of the most solid pieces of rock on this earth, and whereas before our economy was linked to the US, it no longer seems to be the case, which is a good thing. Our countries are similar, but the politics and values can sometimes be completely different. Personally I’m grateful for that, overall our country seems to be usually agreeable on most things, not nearly as split apart as some of our neighbors can be. You guys never quite figured out where to stand since the confederate war; the mentalities are still extreme to one another. That certainly can’t help when it comes to lifting yourselves up from all the trouble in the past years, there’s a clear lack of unity and consensus on how to proceed, the views are opposite. There always need to be a majority in the middle to put things together, that’s just my opinion. I’m wondering if all these problems will lead to states declaring independence.