Does slavery still exist in the United States? The answer may surprise you.
Believe it or not, voters in Colorado will take to the polls tomorrow to decide whether or not to pass Amendment T, which would formally remove “slavery” from the state constitution. Currently, the document – composed in 1876 – reads:
There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime.
When asking what countries still have slavery, it’s necessary to break down the definition of slavery. While many states have removed formal acknowledgement of the practice from their constitutions, the fact is that on the federal level the 13th amendment – which ostensibly abolished slavery at the close of the Civil War – still permits forced labor “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
To this day, millions of incarcerated Americans work for little to no pay, compelled to by work programs that benefit corporations that partner with the US prison system. A number of US businesses take advantage of this arrangement, including Chevron, McDonald’s, Verizon, Walmart, and AT&T.
Forced prison labor is central to ongoing prisons strikes across the country, which have received minimal media coverage but which constitute the largest labor action ever taken by prisoners in the United States.
In Colorado, there is uncertainty whether or not Amendment T will actually eliminate mandatory labor at prisons. Some proponents – as if supported the concept of involuntary labor – point out that other states without reference to slavery in their constitutions still run forced work programs.
If they are right, then the amendment is missing the point. While symbolic gestures can make a positive impact on the collective consciousness, actions matter. Uncompensated or under-compensated work is unacceptable, even if you are behind bars.