It’s been a while. Instead of writing for nowaytomakealiving, I’ve been doing fieldwork for a research project called ‘Green Collar work’, investigating the values and motivations for those working in eco-businesses, with a particular interest in environmental consultants and those selling eco-products. It’s been fascinating. I’ve met a shaman, a former banker and a guitarist, amongst others.

I haven’t yet met any current prisoners, but perhaps I should change the focus of my study to green energy , and put a call into the solar panel company Becoming Green. A Guardian report today suggests this company has replaced full time staff (at least £48 for an 8 hour day at the adult minimum wage) with prisoners (£3 a day). £3 a day works out at 40p an hour; that’s 40p an hour to put on a happy voice and convince potential customers of the benefits of an environmentally friendly way to generate energy, to put up with the complaints of others and meet the targets set. It’s not clear whether the non-prisoner former employees were on more than the minimum wage, but £6.08 an hour wouldn’t be much for a job as notoriously miserable as being in a call-centre. There are several researchers who have noted that call centres have something in common with prisons inhabitants of both are surveilled and monitored (van den Broek, 2003), so that using the toilet becomes a public activity.

It seems a shame that none of those prisoners, nor any of the other workers, have been put to task on the organisation’s website, correcting some of the grammatical errors (the company, it seems, “is vastly evolving throughout the UK regarding Renewable & Sustainable Energy”). But that’s by the by. It seems to me to be bad to pay people 40p an hour, and bad to get rid of more expensive staff in order to do so. I’ve been thinking so much about the ways some of the small green businesses I’m talking to try to make a good, ethical living in what Guattari (2008: 30) calls the ‘dissident vectors’ of capitalism by doing something environmentally positive and, along the way, treating their employees, fellow workers and customers well, that it is quite a shock to my intermittently hopeful heart to see something green be so dirty.

References

  1. Guattari, F. (2008) The Three Ecologies London, Continuum.
  2. van den Broek, D. (2003) ‘Surveillance, privacy and work intensification within call centres Issues in Workplace Relations: WorkSite Work and Organisation Studies, University of Sydney.