As the Pentagon continues to grapple with budget cuts, and workers continue to cry for higher wages, a confluence of those two issues is taking shape with military uniforms and prison labor.
In a Sunday report on how the "U.S. Flouts Its Own Advice in Procuring Overseas Clothing," the New York Times points to some striking numbers regarding how military uniforms are manufactured.
Federal officials still have to navigate a tangle of rules. Defense officials, for instance, who spend roughly $2 billion annually on military uniforms, are required by a World War II-era rule called the Berry Amendment to have most of them made in the United States. In recent years, Congress has pressured defense officials to cut costs on uniforms. Increasingly, the department has turned to federal prisons, where wages are under $2 per hour. Federal inmates this year stitched more than $100 million worth of military uniforms.
In recent years, figures show prison labor has boomed in the face of rising unemployment. A Dec. 2012 report by RT found that hundreds of companies were benefitting from the low- or no-wage labor source. In an April 2012 blog for HuffPost, professors Steve Fraser and Joshua Freeman attributed the rise to the privatization of prisons, which "has meant the creation of a small army of workers too coerced and right-less to complain."
"All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day," the professors wrote.