Why Whole Foods is cutting its association with prison labor

Whole Foods will pull prisoner-made products from store shelves by April 2016.

AUSTIN, TX: Whole Foods will stop selling products made by inmate labor programs after facing criticism from consumers and media outlets.

Prisoner-made products will be pulled from store shelves by April 2016 at the latest, Whole Foods spokesperson Blaire Kniffin told PRWeek via email.

Inmates from Colorado Correctional Industries, a division of the Colorado Department of Corrections, have been milking goats and raising fish for Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy and Quixotic Farming, which supply goat cheese and tilapia to Whole Foods, according to NPR.

"One of our core values is supporting our communities," Kniffin said of why Whole Foods worked with inmate labor programs. "We felt that supporting supplier partners who found a way to be part of paid, rehabilitative work being done by inmates would help people get back on their feet and eventually become contributing members of society."

However, the company came to the decision to ax its relationship with inmates after hearing that shoppers were uncomfortable with the concept, Kniffin explained. Consumers have been chastising the grocer on social media, and as recently as last week, protests about inmates’ low wages were held outside of a Texas Whole Foods store.

"We want to make sure we are in-tune with our customers' wishes," Kniffin said.

In July, Vice published an article that said inmates are paid as little as 74 cents to as high as $4 a day for the goods and services made at Colorado Correctional Industries. To put this in context, Tilapia was being sold for $11.99 a pound at Whole Foods on a recent day in New York.

An Inquisitr article from earlier this year said that cheap labor is one of the reasons Whole Foods is able to cut costs and pass the savings onto their customers. But other media outlets, such as Fortune, have been reporting on Whole Foods’ relationship with inmates since last year.

When questioned on social media by angry consumers over the summer, Whole Foods defended its choice to sell products made by prisoners.

Whole Foods’ decision comes on the heels of a controversial summer for the company. In July, the grocer’s co-CEOs John Mackey and Walter Robb apologized via video to customers for pricing discrepancies in its New York City stores. The chain’s top executives also outlined the steps they are taking to ensure accurate pricing in stores.

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