Labor camp

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The White Sea-Baltic Canal opened on 2 August 1933 was the first major industrial project constructed in the Soviet Union using only forced labor. Canal Mer Blanche.jpg
The White Sea–Baltic Canal opened on 2 August 1933 was the first major industrial project constructed in the Soviet Union using only forced labor.

A labor camp (or labour camp, see spelling differences) or work camp is a detention facility where inmates are forced to engage in penal labor as a form of punishment. Labor camps have many common aspects with slavery and with prisons (especially prison farms). Conditions at labor camps vary widely depending on the operators. Convention no. 105 of the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO), adopted internationally on 27 June 1957, abolished camps of forced labor. [1]


In the 20th century, a new category of labor camps developed for the imprisonment of millions of people who were not criminals per se, but political opponents (real or imagined) and various so-called undesirables under communist and fascist regimes. Some of those camps were dubbed "reeducation facilities" for political coercion, but most others served as backbones of industry and agriculture for the benefit of the state, especially in times of war.[ citation needed ]


Early-modern states could exploit condemned dissidents and those of suspect political or religious ideology by combining prison and useful work in manning their galleys. [2] This became the sentence of many Christian captives in the Ottoman Empire [3] and of Calvinists (Huguenots) in pre-Revolutionary France. [4]

Labor camps in the 20th century


Allies of World War II

The Allies of World War II operated a number of work camps after the war. At the Yalta Conference in 1945, it was agreed that German forced labor was to be utilized as reparations. The majority of the camps were in the Soviet Union, but more than one million Germans were forced to work in French coal-mines and British agriculture, as well as 500,000 in US-run Military Labor Service Units in occupied Germany itself. [5] See Forced labor of Germans after World War II.



According to the New Statesman , Burmese military government operated, from 1962 to 2011, about 91 labour camps for political prisoners. [6]


The anti-communist Kuomintang operated various camps between 1938 and 1949, including the Northwestern Youth Labor Camp for young activists and students. [7]
The Chinese Communist Party has operated many labor camps for some crimes at least since taking power in 1949. Many leaders of China were put into labor camps after purges, including Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi. May Seventh Cadre Schools are an example of Cultural Revolution-era labor camps.
Xinjiang internment camps


Beginning in November 1965, people classified as "against the government" were summoned to work camps referred to as "Military Units to Aid Production" (UMAP). [8]


After the communists took over Czechoslovakia in 1948, many forced labor camps were created.[ citation needed ] The inmates included political prisoners, clergy, kulaks, Boy Scout leaders and many other groups of people that were considered enemies of the state.[ citation needed ] About half of the prisoners worked in the uranium mines. [9] These camps lasted until 1961.[ citation needed ]
Also between 1950 and 1954 many men were considered "politically unreliable" for compulsory military service, and were conscripted to labour battalions (Czech: Pomocné technické prapory (PTP)) instead.[ citation needed ]

Italian Libya

During the colonisation of Libya the Italians deported most of the Libyan population in Cyrenaica to concentration camps and used the survivors to build in semi-slave conditions the coastal road and new agricultural projects. [10]

Nazi Germany

Polish Jews are lined up by German soldiers to do forced labour, September 1939, Nazi-occupied Poland Bundesarchiv Bild 183-E10855, Polen, Juden zur Zwangsarbeit befohlen.jpg
Polish Jews are lined up by German soldiers to do forced labour, September 1939, Nazi-occupied Poland
Registration of Jews by Nazis for forced labor, 1941 Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-185-0112-12, Belgrad, Erfassung von Juden.jpg
Registration of Jews by Nazis for forced labor, 1941
During World War II the Nazis operated several categories of Arbeitslager (Labor Camps) for different categories of inmates. The largest number of them held Jewish civilians forcibly abducted in the occupied countries (see Łapanka) to provide labor in the German war industry, repair bombed railroads and bridges or work on farms. By 1944, 19.9% of all workers were foreigners, either civilians or prisoners of war. [11]
The Nazis employed many slave laborers. They also operated concentration camps, some of which provided free forced labor for industrial and other jobs while others existed purely for the extermination of their inmates. A notable example is the Mittelbau-Dora labor camp complex that serviced the production of the V-2 rocket. See List of German concentration camps for more.
The Nazi camps played a key role in the extermination of millions.

Imperial Japan

During the early 20th century, the Empire of Japan used the forced labor of millions of civilians from conquered countries and prisoners of war, especially during the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War, on projects such as the Death Railway. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a direct result of the overwork, malnutrition, preventable disease and violence which were commonplace on these projects.

North Korea

North Korea is known to operate six camps with prison-labor colonies in remote mountain valleys. The total number of prisoners in the Kwan-li-so is 150,000 to 200,000. Once condemned as a political criminal in North Korea, the defendant and his family are incarcerated for life in one of the camps without trial and cut off from all outside contact. [12]
See also: North Korean prison system


Russia and the Soviet Union

Imperial Russia operated a system of remote Siberian forced labor camps as part of its regular judicial system, called katorga.
The Soviet Union took over the already extensive katorga system and expanded it immensely, eventually organizing the Gulag to run the camps. In 1954, a year after Stalin's death, the new Soviet government of Nikita Khrushchev began to release political prisoners and close down the camps. By the end of the 1950s, virtually all "corrective labor camps" were reorganized, mostly into the system of corrective labor colonies. Officially, the Gulag was terminated by the MVD order 20 of January 25, 1960. [13]
During the period of Stalinism, the Gulag labor camps in the Soviet Union were officially called "Corrective labor camps". The term "labor colony"; more exactly, "Corrective labor colony", (Russian : исправительно-трудовая колония, abbr. ИТК), was also in use, most notably the ones for underaged (16 years or younger) convicts and captured besprizorniki (street children, literally, "children without family care"). After the reformation of the camps into the Gulag, the term "corrective labor colony" essentially encompassed labor camps.[ citation needed ]

Russian Federation


14 labor camps were operated by the Swedish state during World War II. The majority of internees were communists, but radical social democrats, syndicalists, anarchists, trade unionists, anti-fascists and other "unreliable elements" of Swedish society, as well as German dissidents and deserters from the Wehrmacht, were also interned. The internees were placed in the labor camps indefinitely, without trial, and without being informed of the accusations made against them. Officially, the camps were called "labor companies" (Swedish: arbetskompanier). The system was established by the Royal Board of Social Affairs and sanctioned by the third cabinet of Per Albin Hansson, a grand coalition which included all parties represented in the Swedish Riksdag, with the notable exception of the Communist Party of Sweden.
A painter's impression of a convict ploughing team breaking up new ground at a farm in Port Arthur, Tasmania in the early 20th century Convict labourers in Australia in the early 20th century.jpg
A painter's impression of a convict ploughing team breaking up new ground at a farm in Port Arthur, Tasmania in the early 20th century
After the war, many former camp inmates had difficulty finding a job, since they had been branded as "subversive elements". [14]


United States

During the United States occupation of Haiti, the United States Marine Corps and their Gendarmerie of Haiti subordinates enforced a corvée system upon Haitians. [15] [16] [17] The corvée resulted in the deaths of hundreds to thousands of Haitians, with Haitian American academic Michel-Rolph Trouillot estimating that about 5,500 Haitians died in labor camps. [18] In addition, Roger Gaillard writes that some Haitians were killed fleeing the camps or if they did not work satisfactorily. [19]



The Goli Otok prison camp for political opponents ran from 1946 to 1956.

Labor camps in the 21st century


The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China, which closed on December 28, 2013, passed a decision on abolishing the legal provisions on reeducation through labor. However, penal labor allegedly continues to exist in Xinjiang re-education camps according to Radio Free Asia. [20]

North Korea

North Korea is known to operate six camps with prison-labor colonies in remote mountain valleys. The total number of prisoners in the Kwan-li-so is 150,000 – 200,000. Once condemned as a political criminal in North Korea, the defendant and his family are incarcerated for lifetime in one of the camps without trial, and are cut off from all outside contact. [12]

United States

In 1997, a United States Army document was developed that "provides guidance on establishing prison camps on [US] Army installations." [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

Gulag Government agency in charge of the Soviet forced penal labour camp system

The Gulag, GULAG, or GULag was the government agency in charge of the Soviet network of forced labor camps set up by order of Vladimir Lenin, reaching its peak during Joseph Stalin's rule from the 1930s to the early 1950s. English-language speakers also use the word gulag in reference to all of the forced-labor camps that existed in the Soviet Union, including the camps that existed in the post-Lenin era.

<i>Laogai</i> Forced labor for political prisoners in China

Laogai, short for laodong gaizao (劳动改造), which means reform through labor, is a criminal justice system involving the use of penal labor and prison farms in the People's Republic of China (PRC) and North Korea (DPRK). Láogǎi is different from láojiào, or re-education through labor, which was the abolished administrative detention system for people who were not criminals but had committed minor offenses, and was intended to "reform offenders into law-abiding citizens". Persons who were detained in the laojiao were detained in facilities that were separate from those which comprised the general prison system of the laogai. Both systems, however, were based on penal labor.

Penal colony Remote settlement housing convicts

A penal colony or exile colony is a settlement used to exile prisoners and separate them from the general population by placing them in a remote location, often an island or distant colonial territory. Although the term can be used to refer to a correctional facility located in a remote location, it is more commonly used to refer to communities of prisoners overseen by wardens or governors having absolute authority.

Internment Imprisonment or confinement of groups of people without trial

Internment is the imprisonment of people, commonly in large groups, without charges or intent to file charges. The term is especially used for the confinement "of enemy citizens in wartime or of terrorism suspects". Thus, while it can simply mean imprisonment, it tends to refer to preventive confinement rather than confinement after having been convicted of some crime. Use of these terms is subject to debate and political sensitivities. Internment is also occasionally used to describe a neutral country's practice of detaining belligerent armed forces and equipment on its territory during times of war, under the Hague Convention of 1907.


Katorga was a system of penal labor in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Prisoners were sent to remote penal colonies in vast uninhabited areas of Siberia and Russian Far East where voluntary settlers and workers were never available in sufficient numbers. The prisoners had to perform forced labor under harsh conditions.

Hoeryong concentration camp was a prison camp in North Korea that was reported to have been closed in 2012. The official name was KwallisoNo. 22. The camp was a maximum security area, completely isolated from the outside world.

Penal labour Type of forced labour performed by prisoners

Penal labour is a generic term for various kinds of forced labour which prisoners are required to perform, typically manual labour. The work may be light or hard, depending on the context. Forms of sentence involving penal labour have included involuntary servitude, penal servitude, and imprisonment with hard labour. The term may refer to several related scenarios: labour as a form of punishment, the prison system used as a means to secure labour, and labour as providing occupation for convicts. These scenarios can be applied to those imprisoned for political, religious, war, or other reasons as well as to criminal convicts.

Extermination through labour Killing prisoners by means of forced labour

Extermination through labour is a term that was adopted to describe forced labor in Nazi concentration camps in light of the high mortality rate and poor conditions; in some camps a majority of prisoners died within a few months. In the 21st century, research has questioned whether there was a general policy of extermination through labor in the Nazi concentration camp system because of widely varying conditions between camps. German historian Jens-Christian Wagner argues that the camp system involved the exploitation of forced labor of some prisoners and the systematic killing of others, especially Jews, with only limited overlap between these two groups.


Sevvostlag was a system of forced labor camps set up to satisfy the workforce requirements of the Dalstroy construction trust in the Kolyma region in April 1932. Organizationally being part of Dalstroy and under the management of the Labor and Defence Council of Sovnarkom, these camps were formally subordinated to OGPU later the NKVD directorate of the Far Eastern Krai. On March 4, 1938 Sevvostlag was resubordinated to the NKVD GULAG. In 1942 it was resubordinated back to Dalstroy. In 1949 it was renamed to the Directorate of Dalstroy Corrective Labor Camps. In 1953, after the death of Joseph Stalin, with the reform of the Soviet penal system, it was again resubordinated to Gulag and later reformed into the Directorate of Far Eastern Corrective Labor Camps Управление Северо-восточных исправительно-трудовых лагерей, УСВИТЛ (USVITL).


Norillag, Norilsk Corrective Labor Camp was a gulag labor camp set by Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia and headquartered there. It existed from June 25, 1935 to August 22, 1956.

Forced labor was used extensively in the Soviet Union as a means of controlling Soviet citizens and foreigners. Forced labor also provided manpower for government projects and for reconstruction after the war. It began before the Gulag and Kolkhoz systems were established, although through these institutions, its scope and severity were increased. The conditions that accompanied forced labor were often harsh and could be deadly.


Karlag was one of the largest Gulag labor camps, located in Karaganda Oblast, Kazakh SSR, USSR. It was established in 1931 during the period of settlement of remote areas of greater USSR and its ethnic republics. Cheap labor was in high demand for these purposes. People were arrested and transported from west of the Ural Mountains to the gigantic labor camp in central Kazakhstan spanning from Akmola Region in the north to the Chu River in the south. Later, after WWII, another wave of prisoners poured in, constituting Soviet former POWs held captive by the Nazis before the Red Army returned them to the Soviet Union. Many Karlag inmates were prisoners sentenced as "enemies of the people" under Article 58 RSFSR. Over 1,000,000 inmates in total served in Karlag over its history.

Corrective labor colony Type of prison in post-Soviet states

A corrective colony is the most common type of prison in Russia and some post-Soviet states. Such colonies combine penal detention with compulsory work. The system of labor colonies originated in 1929 alongside the Gulag labor camps, and after 1953 the corrective penal colonies in the Soviet Union developed as a post-Stalin replacement of the Gulag labor-camp system.

Pukch'ang concentration camp is a labor camp in North Korea for political prisoners. It is sometimes called Tŭkchang concentration camp. The official name is Kwan-li-so No. 18.

Vorkutlag Soviet-era prison/labor camp

The Vorkuta Corrective Labor Camp, commonly known as the Vorkuta Gulag or Vorkutlag (Воркутлаг), was a major GULAG labor camp of the Soviet Union located in Vorkuta from 1932 to 1962.

North Korean prisons have conditions that are unsanitary, life-threatening and are comparable to historical concentration camps. A significant number of prisoners have died each year, since they are subject to torture and inhumane treatment. Public and secret executions of prisoners, even children, especially in cases of attempted escape, are commonplace. Infanticides also often occur. The mortality rate is exceptionally high, because many prisoners die of starvation, illnesses, work accidents, or torture.

North Korea's political penal labor colonies, transliterated kwalliso or kwan-ri-so, constitute one of three forms of political imprisonment in the country, the other two being what David Hawk translated as "short-term detention/forced-labor centers" and "long-term prison labor camps", for misdemeanor and felony offenses respectively. In total, there are an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners.

Federal Penitentiary Service Russian federal prison authority

The Federal Penitentiary Service is a federal agency of the Ministry of Justice of Russia responsible for correctional services.

Dubravlag Soviet labor camp

The Dubravny Camp, Special Camp No.3, commonly known as the Dubravlag, was a Gulag labor camp of the Soviet Union located in Yavas, Mordovia from 1948 to 2005.

<i>Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir</i>

Gulag Boss: A Soviet Memoir is a 2011 memoir by Fyodor Vasilevich Mochulsky (1918–1999), a Soviet Engineer and eventual Head of numerous Gulag camps in the northern Russian region of Pechorlag, Pechora, from 1940 to 1946. Under the orders of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), Mochulsky oversaw the construction of a 500 km-long rail line from the Pechorlag camps, bordering the Arctic Circle, to central Russia, with a goal to connect "remote Pechora Camps to the outside world". The book was published posthumously by the Oxford University Press in 2011. It is introduced as well as translated and edited by sociology scholar, Deborah A. Kaple.


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