MicroSoft Uses Prison Labor

buddha (
Tue, 28 Jan 1997 14:32:52 -0500 (EST)



-- By Wes Thomas

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, U.S.A. -- Many of Microsoft's products are packaged and shrink-wrapped by prisoners at Washington State's Twin Rivers Corrections Center (TRCC), according to Dan Pens, co-editor of Prison Legal News and a prisoner at TRCC.

Pens tells Newsbytes that Exmark, a company specializing in product packaging and located in Monroe, Washington, and a subsidiary of Pac Services, utilized the services of 90 prisoners at TRCC who packaged 50,000 units of Windows 95 demo disks and direct-mail promotional packets.

Mark Murray, corporate public relations manager, says of the report: "At this point there is no Microsoft product for sale that is packaged at the Twin Rivers Correction Center. There may be demo packages that are boxed and shrink-wrapped as part of this program, but not products for commercial sale."

"I am not aware of any Windows 95 product that was packaged at the Twin Rivers Correctional Center," he added.

As far as the use of prison labor to do packaging, "We see this program as something that a number of companies in Washington State have worked with. A lot of public officials believe that this type of program helps to provide valuable work experience for prisoners. I don't think that we have an opinion one way or another."

"We don't see this as a negative for the company or for the workers," he said.

Microsoft sold the majority of its software production and packaging plant, the Canyon Park facility in Bothell, Washington, to Japanese-owned Kao Infosystems Company of Plymouth, Maine this summer. "At this point, product packaging guys tell me that we have not done business directly with Exmark for a year or so," he added, but said, "It is possible that the company that took over the packaging facility may be doing business with Exmark or that an individual product group within Microsoft may be working with Exmark."

Pens claims, "Exmark pays its prison workers the minimum wage ($4.90/hr in Washington), but that figure is misleading. After deductions by the prison, prisoners can see a spendable wage of $1.80 to $2.80 per hour, but the law authorizes up to 80 percent of a prisoner's wages to be deducted, meaning they could actually take home less than one dollar an hour. Exmark and other private industries operating in Washington's prisons do not have to provide their prison workers with any benefits such as health insurance workers' compensation, or retirement."

The report says that Exmark uses prison labor to package for other companies besides Microsoft: JanSport, Starbucks, US West, and Costco. Other companies also utilize prisoners for jobs, including Redwood Outdoors, A&I Manufacturing, and Elliott Bay Metal Fabrication.

According to the report, in 1993, the Washington legislature passed a bill mandating that the Washington Department of Corrections increase the number of prisoners employed in "Free Venture Industries" by 300 jobs a year, with a net increase of 1,500 new prison industry jobs by the year 2000.

Prison Legal News can be reached at 2400 NW 80th Street, Suite 148, Seattle, WA 98117, (407) 547-9716, or

(19970117/Contact: Exmark Corp., 16920 164th Second Monroe, WA 98272, 360-794-6246; Waggoner Edstrom, Heidi Rothhausen, 206-637-9097/Reported by Newsbytes News Network /MSOFTLOGO/PHOTO)

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