Whole Foods Market places high standards on the food they sell. The national chain claims they are serious about quality and they take into consideration the importance of environmental health, animal welfare, responsible farming, and standards of quality.
However, little can be said about Whole Foods Market’s labor practices, according to some critics.
In a story by Pacific Standards, Whole Foods gets their tilapia fish from a federal prison in Cañon City, Colorado. Work programs at the Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI) are geared towards helping the prisons establish a presence in the civilian economy.
For example, Whole Foods is one of the prison’s tilapia farming operation’s largest customers. The state prison produces close to 1.2 million pounds of tilapia each year.
The prison’s tilapia farming does, in fact, meet Whole Foods aquaculture standards. The prison-fish are produced in an environmentally friendly way. Antibiotics are not used in raising the fish, and none of the fish are genetically modified, and no preservatives are added.
According to Pacific Standards, prison labor director Steve Smith cites they feed the tilapia fish in the prison’s farming operation a specialized diet.
“Our niche is vegetarian and hormone free. We made a conscious effort to go into the health food market.”
However, when it comes to ethics pertaining to labor welfare, Whole Foods Market comes short, according to Grist and other civil rights activists. The news and commentary organization claims the prison labor programs are inundated with ethical issues because prison inmates do not have any labor rights protection.
One of the reasons Whole Foods is able to cut costs and pass the savings onto their customers is because of extremely cheap labor. For example, the Cañon prison inmates, who farm Whole Foods tilapia fish, are paid $1.50 an hour, close to $125 a month.
In fact, since there are no legal label requirements, most of the public is unaware that a variety of merchandise they purchase comes from cheap prison labor.
On the other hand, prisoners who are involved in the CCI prison work programs are glad to get out into the fresh air, make a little money, and stimulate their minds and bodies. For a little while, inmates can escape the dull and mundane prison life to some degree.
Critics may view the prison system’s extremely low wages for the prisoners as immoral and unethical.
Nonetheless, when the alternatives of lifting weights and just sitting around inside the prison walls are concerned, perhaps Whole Foods and the Colorado prison system are doing some good for the inmates and public, as well.
[Featured image courtesy of Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]