A prominent Russian parliamentarian has drafted a bill that would allow firms to employ thousands of convicts as cheaper labour for infrastructure projects including facilities for the 2018 World Cup and the proposed bridge over the Kerch Strait.
The bill, as reported yesterday in the business daily Kommersant, creates a mechanism for companies to use prisoners as labourers on work sites hundreds of kilometres from where they are incarcerated.
We are talking about the revival of the economic model of the Gulag when all of the main construction projects of the USSR were built at the expense of the poorly paid or completely unpaid– Vladimir Osechkin, head of human rights project Gulagu.Net
Any type of enterprise – state, private, or public – could employ prisoners sentenced to compulsory labour or serving time in penal colony settlements, which hold prisoners convicted of less serious crimes, in the bill presented by Aleksandr Khinshtein (pictured), a deputy for the ruling United Russia party and deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee for security.
There are 39,500 prisoners serving sentences in 128 penal-colony settlements in the Russian Federation, according to 2015 statistics from the Federal Penitentiary Services (FSIN) cited by Kommersant.
Khinshtein proposed offering companies tax breaks to encourage them to use prison labour. He said the cheap workforces would be particularly useful as Russia prepares to hold the 2018 World Cup, and said other projects, such as the proposed bridge over the Kerch Strait to Crimea, could benefit.
The Federal Penitentiary Service supports the initiative, according to Kommersant, but only if prisoners are put to work in the province where they are incarcerated.
An opposition parliamentarian, Dmitry Gudkov, condemned the initiative as slave labour and reminiscent of the gulag economy under Josef Stalin.
But Vladimir Osechkin, head of human rights project Gulagu.Net, told Kommersant that he believed the initiative is acceptable if the prisoners choose to work.
"Otherwise, we are talking about the revival of the economic model of the Gulag when all of the main construction projects of the USSR were built at the expense of the poorly paid or completely unpaid," he told Kommersant.
Photograph: The bill was presented by Aleksandr Khinshtein, a deputy for the ruling United Russia party and deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee for security (Valera N. Trubin/Wikimedia Commons)