October 1, 2015
Here’s Why Whole Foods Will Stop Selling Products Produced By Prison Inmates

Whole Foods will slowly stop selling products made by prison inmates. The decision was taken after a protest at one of its stores in Texas.

Organic food supermarket chain Whole Foods has decided to stop selling products made using a prison labor program. The company confirmed that it will continue to sell the existing merchandise until stocks run out, but it won't replenish the depleted stocks. As per its inventory records, Whole Foods confirmed the products made by inmates should be completely out of its stores latest by April next year if not sooner.

The merchandise, which will be permanently taken off the shelves, includes tilapia, trout, and goat cheese products. These products were made by businesses that relied on the labor of prison inmates. The labor was part of a Colorado work program.

Interestingly, it's not the quality that slipped, neither did Whole Foods find any issues with reliability. Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods made the decision after a protest at one of its stores in Houston. Apparently, some of the customers voiced their concern about the wages that were being paid to the inmates, confirmed spokesman Michael Silverman.

"The company had sourced the products because the program was a way to help people get back on their feet and eventually become contributing members of society. Whole Foods decided to end the practice because some customers were uncomfortable with it."

Perhaps that noble cause won't be seen to fruition owing to the protests. The products in question were coming to Whole Foods via Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI), a division of Colorado's department of corrections. CCI has maintained that its mission "is to train inmates with skills and work ethics that help them secure employment after release."

Sea Food

Whole Foods had been sourcing the products since 2011. For four years, the company, in association with the CCI, was trying to "help people [inmates] get back on their feet and eventually become contributing members of society," said Michael Silverman, a Whole Foods spokesman. According to the CCI, the program has employed more than 1,800 prisoners.

Dennis Dunsmoor, director of the program, is certainly a very concerned man right now.

"We are very concerned about it. CCI administers prison-work programs across the state. It's definitely going to have an impact on us."

Dunsmoor added that Whole Foods doesn't buy products processed by inmates directly from CCI, but from its partners. The three products are first bought by three different companies, who later sell it to Whole Foods. Whole Foods buys Colorado prison tilapia from Quixotic Farming and cheese from Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy that is produced with prison goat milk, reported Daily Camera.

Interestingly, though Whole Foods has announced it won't be buying products made by inmates in Colorado, John Scaggs, marketing director of Longmont-based Haystack, confirmed that his company's commitment to CCI hasn't been affected. He added that although Whole Foods is Haystack's biggest customer for goat cheese, other companies will probably source what Whole Foods won't.

Whole Foods

Though all the companies said they were quite proud of their association with CCI and the work the inmates were putting in, some of the end consumers grumbled about the wages paid to the workers.

According to Vice, the inmates were paid as little as 74 cents a day for their hard work. Needless to say, the products these inmates produced were then sold with a hefty price tag, ensuring the companies in the supply-chain earned handsomely. Many have termed the practice highly exploitative, categorically mentioning that majority of the prisoners putting in the hours were African Americans.

Whole Foods recently announced it will be letting 1,500 people go. Will it retain its customers with such policies?

[Image Credit | Spencer Platt, Stephen Chernin, Bloomberg / Getty Images]