Millions of men, women and children around the world are in the 21st century still forced to lead lives as slaves - conservatively estimated to be 12 million, [1] more than during the 19th century slave trade. Although this exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. People are bought and pocket option sold like objects; forced to work, through mental or physical threat, for little or no pay; owned or controlled by an 'employer', through mental or physical or threatened abuse; and physically constrained or have restrictions placed on their freedom of movement.

The International Labour Organisation, for example, characterises slavery as one of several forms of forced labour [2] as defined in international law. The Forced Labour Convention of 1930 describes forced labour as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”. In all the international conventions on forced labour and slavery, the definitions set forth normally endorse circumstances that can allow for the enslavement of individuals within any state’s jurisdiction. Prison systems, for example, are state sanctioned and often provide cheap (if not free) labour for corporations - all legal by the laws of almost all states.

In the UK today most people like to think that slavery has been eradicated. Unfortunately, this is not the case. For example, many people fleeing persecution from around the world end up in this country as ‘sans-papiers’. Having been denied asylum, they end up working in shitty jobs for a pittance, constantly in fear of arrest and deportation. [3] People are still employed in sweatshops in London, [4] many of them failed asylum seekers, despite tourist industry’s portrayal of the East End sweatshop as a historical attraction of bygone days. [5]

The maintenance of a degree of unemployment amongst workers has long been used as a mechanism for keeping wages low. In the 80’s, the ranks of the unemployed served as a pool of cheap labour for the service economy of the newly de-industrialised Britain. However, that Thatcherite inspired de-industrialisation pushed unemployment levels up so much that they became a political embarrassment. These figures had to be massaged, and vast numbers of pocket option demo the unemployed were pushed into the ranks of the disabled to hide them. As a consequence of both actions, Neo-Labour inherited a vast welfare bill when they gained power that threatened their ‘more-tory-than-thou’ stance. They, in turn, have driven the unemployed into MacJobs and have recently turned to the ranks of the ‘disabled’ to try to continue to service those same MacJobs that seem to constitute Gordon Brown’s ‘economic miracle’.

Parallel to this has been a continuance of Thatcherite privatisations of anything these modern-day robber barons can lay their hands upon. One of the more attractive parts of this ‘End Of The Century Sale’ has been the Prison sector.

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Not only have the Neo-Labour government sought companies for Private-Finance Initiative prison building programmes, they have pursued a wholesale liquidisation of Prison Service assets, handing large sectors over to private companies. For example, the US conglomerate Aramark have become a major contractor of HMPS [6] canteen and shop services. [7] Aramark are a major American-based 'service management organisation', that topped the Fortune magazine’s 2006 list of America’s Most Admired Companies – “The U.S. corporation Aramark demonstrates exactly how lucrative the business with prisons can be.” [8] It has entered the UK privatisation bonanza with alacrity, snapping up catering contracts across the public sector and employing around 12,000 people with a turnover of around £400 million. [9]

One of Aramark’s major coups was winning the contract to run the majority of HMPS canteens & prison shops, where it is not so universally admired by its new customers. [10] These prison shops are now the only place where prisoners are able to get essential items such as phone cards, writing materials and stamps, toiletries, etc., and has been classed a privilege under the incentives and earned privileges (IEP) scheme since it was introduced in 1995. Another of these privileges is the right to receive property and goods from outside the prison i.e. from relatives and friends and the IEP scheme puts the control of this right solely in the hands of the prison governor.


The objectives of the IEP scheme are “to encourage hard work and other constructive activity” [11] by introducing a system of privileges that are “earned by prisoners through good behaviour and performance and are removed if they fail to maintain acceptable standards”. [12] At the core of this scheme is the concept of paying prisoners "to encourage and reward their constructive participation in the regime of the establishment". [13] Rates of pay vary depending on resources, the amount and type of work available at each prison, and the level reached on the IEP scheme. At present the minimum ‘wage’ is set at £4 per week and if you are willing to work but are unemployed because no work is available, the basic rate is £2.50 per week. [14] Most of the work available itself, by the regime's own admission, "provides little training, qualifications or resettlement activities for prisoners." [15]

The scheme operates on three tiers: basic, pocket option copy trading standard and enhanced; and which tier the prisoner is placed on depends on how well she or he tows the line – “If the prisoner’s behaviour or lack of progress demonstrates that he or she cannot sustain his/her current privilege level, he or she may be downgraded to the level below (as an administrative measure, not as a punishment imposed at adjudication).” [16]

Among the things that are linked to the IEP scheme are a set of Key Earnable Privileges:
● extra and improved visits
● eligibility to earn higher rates of pay
● access to in-cell television
● opportunity to wear own clothes [17]
● access to private cash [18]
● time out of cell for association
● the right to buy items from the prison shop;
earnable rewards for active participation in everything from sentence planning and Offending Behaviour Programmes to prison work and education. Even the right to possess tobacco and to smoke is now an earned privilege under Rule 8. [19] And these privileges can also be taken away for the breaking of any of the myriad of prison rules listed in the Prison Discipline Manual.


With the introduction of the IEP scheme in 1995, the existing regulatory framework of the Prison Rules (established under the Prison Act 1952) had to be revised to integrate this new system of rewards and punishment into it. [20] Amongst the many Offences Against Discipline that a prisoner can now commit, is if s/he “…intentionally fails to work properly or, being required to work, refuses to do so.” [21] These offences against discipline carry the threat of a number of Governor’s Punishments., which can include:
● loss of privileges under Rule 8 up to 42 days (21 days for a young offender)
● up to 21 days cellular confinement
● stoppage of earnings for up to 84 days or deduction from earnings of an amount not exceeding 42 days earnings
● young offenders can even be sentenced to periods of extra work as a punishment. [22]
So, not only is it compulsory to work to a standard set by prison staff, it is also possible for a prisoner to find themselves working for a prolonged period for nothing at all if they fall below that standard or get out of line in any other way.

As we have seen participation in work, education, exercise and association, attendance at offending behaviour and treatment programmes and even religious service are all seen integral to the maintenance of order in the modern prison regime. Therefore basic 'rights' under the IEP scheme such as access to a radio, newspapers and “attendance at educational classes…should not normally be forfeited.” [23] However, prisoners have been denied access to education when refusing to work as they were held to be disruptive to ‘the maintenance of good order and discipline’ and placed in segregation.

Yet the government and prison authorities maintains that the British prison system exists not only to protect the public and maintain civil order, but to also genuinely rehabilitate offenders through education and training, How can some mind-numbing activity such as packing plastic spoons for Sainbury's or untangling and repacking in-flight entertainment headphone for Virgin Airways for up to 10 hours a day for a few pence an hour, week in week out, ever be constituted as holding any skills training value?

Clearly to establish a Prison Industrial Complex in Britain based on the American model, with such a large but potentially belligerent captive workforce, that workforce had to be subdued and coerced into a compliant state. Thus the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme, one of the state's more subtle and ingenious methods of subjugation, was instituted and the prison population is now ripe for exploitation by private capital. They have become modern day slaves in everything but name.


1 More than 6 million of these are children. International labour Organisation estimates in A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour - Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declarationon Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 2005.
2 There are two main defining characteristics of forced labour:
   1. Its involuntary nature: Victims may be abducted, born into slave or bonded status, sold by one person to another, deceived
       about terms and types of work, physically or psychologically confined, or be induced into a debt which they are forced to
       repay by working without wages thereby becoming bonded labourers.
   2. The threat of a penalty: This could be the threat of physical or sexual violence, of financial penalties, of deprivation of basic
       necessities such as food or shelter, of being reported to the authorities resulting in prosecution or deportation, or of removal
       of rights and privileges. []
3 ‘...up to 570,000 people living irregularly in the UK including those who have overstayed work and student visas, failed asylum seekers, and trafficked persons.’ []
4 Over 340 companies in the East End of London employ nearly 5,000 local people producing clothing for high street shops and local street market traders. []
6 Her Majesty’s Prison Service: comprises the English (and Welsh) Prison Service (EPS), Scottish Prison Service (SPS) & Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS)
7 See: [page since taken down]
8 European Corrections Corporation website []
9 The Scotsman 5th September 2006
10 See for example: Inside Time, Issue No. 78, Dec. 2005, pg. 14; &
11 Prisoners Information Book: Male Prisoner and Young Offenders, 2002, HMPS & Prison Reform Trust
12-13 PSO 4000 Incentives and Earned Privileges, 18/10/2006, HMPS
14 See 11
Costing And Pricing Guidelines For Prison Industries [Internal HMPS Document].
16 See 12
See 12 The right to rent a TV and to wear your own clothes are only available at the enhanced level.
Capped at the rate of £2.50, £10 or £15 per week for the basic, standard and enhanced privilege levels respectively. Prisoners Information Book: Male Prisoner and Young Offenders, 2002.
19 The Prison Rules 1999. See also The Young Offender Institution Rules 2000, Rule 6 & The Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2006, Rule 113.
20 Another important function of this new integrated regime was to help quell the under current of prison rebellion and mutiny that had spread throughout the system in the 80's and 90's.
PSO 2000 Prison Discipline Manual, 30/12/2005, HMPS
22 The right to impose a punishment of up to 42 additional days to be seved in prison in lieu of forfeiture of remission was removed from Governors and placed in the hands of an Independent Adjudicator in 2002.
23 See 21