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Breaking Free of the Thirteenth Amendment's Slavery Exception

By Corporate Accountability Lab

Published January 2024

In another groundbreaking report, Corporate Accountability Lab delves into one of the most critical yet often overlooked aspects of American constitutional law. Building off of their previously released publication, Convicted: How Corporations Exploit the Thirteenth Amendment’s Loophole for Profit, this report provides deeper analysis, along with actionable recommendations that serve as a roadmap to ending the United State's economic reliance on the exploitative practices of forced prison labor.

An essential resource for understanding and addressing the exploitation of incarcerated individuals through forced labor, another MUST-READ!

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The Scope of the Problem

Corporate Accountability Lab's report outlines the extensive use of this loophole to exploit incarcerated individuals. Prison labor has become a cornerstone of various industries, from agriculture to manufacturing to services. This practice not only dehumanizes inmates but also perpetuates racial and economic inequalities.

  1. Racial Disparities: The prison labor system disproportionately affects people of color, exacerbating systemic racism and inequality.

  2. Economic Exploitation: Incarcerated individuals often receive meager wages, far below the minimum wage, for their labor. This financial exploitation leaves them with little to no means to support themselves or their families upon release.

  3. Human Rights Violations: The conditions under which inmates work are often harsh and unsafe, lacking the protections and rights afforded to free laborers.

Key Findings of the Report

Corporate Accountability Lab's "Breaking Free of the Thirteenth Amendment's Exception Clause" provides a comprehensive analysis of the issue, including:

  • Historical Context: The report traces the historical roots of the exception clause and its evolution over time, highlighting how it has been used to maintain racial and economic hierarchies.

  • Current Exploitation: Detailed case studies illustrate the various ways in which corporations and state agencies exploit prison labor, from producing consumer goods to maintaining public infrastructure.

  • Impact on Incarcerated Individuals: Testimonies and data show the profound negative impact on the physical and mental well-being of incarcerated workers, as well as the broader social implications.

Most importantly, it details immediately actionable recommendations for federal and state policymakers, companies, lawyers and advocates, creating,

"a road sign pointing drivers toward the avenue not yet taken – but plotted and visible – this report is intended to catalyze movement toward the creation of a domestic economy no longer dependent on the exploitation of cheap, captive, convicted, and frequently Black, Latinx, and Indigenous, labor."

Calls to Action

The report is not just an exposé but a call to action for lawmakers, activists, and the general public. Key recommendations include:

  1. Amend the Thirteenth Amendment: Advocates urge for the removal of the exception clause to eliminate any form of slavery or involuntary servitude.

  2. Legislative Reforms: Enacting laws that ensure fair wages, safe working conditions, and worker protections for incarcerated individuals.

  3. Corporate Responsibility: Holding corporations accountable for their use of prison labor and promoting ethical practices in their supply chains.

  4. Public Awareness: Increasing public awareness about the issue to build a broad-based movement for change.

Moving Forward

Corporate Accountability Lab’s report is a vital resource for anyone committed to justice and human rights. By exposing the ways in which the Thirteenth Amendment’s loophole is exploited, it calls us to reflect on the true meaning of freedom and equality. The movement to amend the Thirteenth Amendment is gaining momentum, driven by the voices of those who have been directly affected and supported by advocates and allies across the nation.


Breaking free from the Thirteenth Amendment’s slavery exception is not just a legal challenge; it is a moral imperative. Reports like "Breaking Free" are essential tools in the fight for justice. They provide the evidence, context, and recommendations needed to drive meaningful change. As we continue to advocate for human rights and social justice, let us draw strength from these resources and work tirelessly to ensure that every individual, regardless of their circumstances, is treated with dignity and respect.

Sources: Corporate Accountability Lab. Breaking Free of the Thirteenth Amendment's Slavery Exception.


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