3M Co

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Occupations, Prisons

A conglomerate corporation operating in the manufacturing, health care, and consumer goods industries. Supplies materials for prison labor programs and for weapon systems used against civilians.

3M (formerly Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company) is a publicly-traded diversified technology corporation headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota. 3M has a global presence in the business sectors of industrial manufacturing; safety and graphics; electronics and energy; healthcare; and consumer goods. Most U.S. consumers know 3M as the maker of Scotch tape and other common adhesive products: Post-It sticky notes, Scotch-Brite cleaning products, Ocelo sponges, NexCare and Ace bandages, desk and computer accessories,Thinsulate, various materials and tools used in construction and home improvement, and an array of other consumer labels (the website lists 4,879 products). 

3M in the prison industry

In 2014, 3M reported $31.821 billion in revenue. The corporation's second highest earning division is the “Safety and Graphics Business Segment” (nearly $5.7 billion, or 18% of total revenue in 2014). This segment provides high-tech security and surveillance products for law enforcement and correctional facilities. 3M and its subsidiaries hold numerous contracts with federal, state and municipal prison systems.

3M plays a major role in the global electronic monitoring industry, which is projected to reach $6 billion by 2018. 3M Electronic Monitoring Ltd. is a market leader, along with STOP, LLC (Satellite Tracking of People, owned by Securus Technologies) and BI Inc. (a GEO Group company), which controls 30% of the U.S. Market. 3M Electronic Monitoring currently operates systems internationally throughout Europe, the U.S., Israel, Australia, Singapore, Latin America, and Mexico. GPS and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) systems are used for curfew monitoring, to monitor people on parole and to permanently track sex offenders in states and countries requiring life-long registration. 3M’s breath-alcohol detection equipment is widely used by law enforcement, including inside prisons.

3M Electronic Monitoring’s wholly-owned subsidiaries, Elmo-Tech and Pro-Tech Monitoring, make electronic devices that identify prison guards under duress and issue an alarm, and others that monitor groups of inmates through tags on their uniforms, both inside penitentiaries and on modern-day chain gangs, which the company labels "off-site work crews." The company has developed an Inmate Tracking System, which it advertises as offering real-time, automatic headcounts; real-time inmate tracking; staff security alerts (officer duress, man-down alarms), real-time event and escape notification. Currently this Inmate Tracking System is not available in the U.S. but has been utilized in several prisons in Sweden and Finland. 3M also manufactures RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) systems used in numerous corrections departments in the U.S., including Cook County Jail in Chicago, and Departments of Corrections in Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and Arkansas.

3M provides states and institutions with equipment to create identification documents, as well as the scanners used to check those documents in borders or checkpoints. Some of these are used in prisons for prison IDs, work release passes, and visitor and volunteer identification. Inside some jails, including the Los Angeles County Jail, people are required to wear wristbands with bar codes, checked by scanners. Additionally, 3M Cogent, another subsidiary, manufactures biometric identification systems, including mobile fingerprint, face, and iris recognition systems. Its mobile Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) and Automated Palmprint and Fingerprint Identification Systems (APFIS) are widely used by law enforcement, including by the San Francisco Police Department (featured in a video on the 3M website). 3M Cogent manufactures the LiveScan machine, which captures a subject’s palm and fingerprints, along with race, sex, hair color, and eye color. LiveScans are increasingly used by public agencies and employers to perform background checks.

3M’s electronic monitoring systems have been criticized for inaccuracy and false reports. In 2011, the State of California canceled its contract with 3M to provide electronic monitoring devices for 7,900 people on parole. The monitoring devices were deficient, and failed 46 of 102 field-testing standards. The device batteries died early, their cases cracked, tampering alerts failed, and reported locations were off by as much as 3 miles. These failures resulted in people being arrested and imprisoned for parole violations that never happened, and in April 2012 parole agents throughout California were ordered to remove every 3M ankle monitor in use.

3M’s fully-owned subsidiary, Ceradyne, Inc., also has contracts to provide raw materials for UNICOR, a prison work program employing people locked up in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. UNICOR (trade name for Federal Prison Industries, Inc.) produces goods for sale to the Federal government, and trains Federal prisoners in work skills associated with manufacturing and data processing. UNICOR’s largest customer is the Department of Defense, in part because all agencies of the federal government are required to offer contracts to UNICOR before any private company. One such $9.6 million contract, in 2008, was for the supply of ceramic shields used in manufacturing helmets for the U.S. military. This contract was canceled in February 2010 after the Army recalled 44,000 UNICOR-made helmets that didn’t meet Army ballistic standards. Manufacturing problems were attributed to UNICOR, which no longer assembles the helmets. Ceradyne continues to manufacture and sell advanced body armor systems and helmets to the U.S. military through other contractors.

License plate manufacturing has traditionally been done in prisons, using prisoners’ labor.  3M manufactures the reflective coating that makes license plates and traffic signs more visible at night. Currently, 3M supplies 43 prison factories operated by Correctional Industries around the country, producing licenses plates for 40 states and the federal government. 3M lobbied aggressively for a state law requiring Washington state license plates to be replaced every seven years, arguing that the reflective coating it produces loses reflectivity over time. Traffic safety experts in several states have testified that the reflective coating is effective for a much longer period. In places like Maryland and California, plates have been on the road for decades without issue. California Highway Patrol officials noted their troopers don’t have trouble reading older plates at night, and neither do the Patrol’s license-plate-recognition devices.

3M supplies raw materials to state correctional industries as well. 3M holds contracts with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) worth over $ 27.6 million dollars for the 2007 - 2019 period. The procurement contracts are for materials such as reflective sheeting and reflective material-stickers used in producing license plates.

3M also has a substantial federal lobby presence. The corporation employs several teams of lobbyists, including its own in-house lobby. During the fiscal year 2013-2014, 3M spent $9.8 million on federal lobbying, primarily in the fields of health and medicare, federal budget and appropriations, defense, chemical industry, tariffs and taxes, and the environment and superfund. Reflecting the company’s law enforcement interests, 3M lobbyists consistently reported several areas of “Homeland Security” interest, namely: “U.S. Visit Program/Exit System;” “Biometrics;” “Department of Justice (DOJ) Federal Prison Training Programs;” “DOJ Federal Prison Programs,” License Plate Readers; Customs and Border Protection;” and “Secure Identification/Documents.”

3M as a major military supplier

In 2011, 3M had $38,962,649 in government contracts, of which $29,144,224 were with the Department of Defense, for products and services ranging from medical and dental supplies to fire fighting and data processing equipment. Its wholly-owned subsidiary, Ceradyne had direct Department of Defense contracts totaling $343 million in 2011. Ceradyne is the sole specified provider of ceramic aircraft armor for Apache and other attack helicopters, and of body armor plates and combat helmets for all branches of the U.S. military. “Ceradyne supplies complete DEFENDER armor systems that include ceramic armor seats, components, and panel systems for the Apache, Gazelle, Super Puma, Super Cobra, Blackhawk, Chinook, and other military helicopters. Ceradyne armor tiles are also specified in many fixed wing applications such as the C-130 and C-17 aircraft.”

3M in Israel/ Palestine

3M Electronic Monitoring had its beginnings in Dmatek Ltd., established in Israel in 1990 and focused on the newly-emerging electronic monitoring market. Later renamed Attenti, the company had established itself as a global leader in the field with contracts throughout Europe, Russia, and in Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. It has continued expanding after the purchase by 3M in 2010, with its global headquarters in Ramat Hahayal, Israel. Since  2005, the company has worked with G4S Israel to provide electronic monitoring services to the home detention program of the Israeli Ministry of Internal Security. This contract was last renewed in 2014.

As specified above, Ceradyne (a wholly-owned 3M subsidiary) is the sole provider of ceramic aircraft armor for Boeing’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopter as well as for other military aircrafts in use by the Israeli air force, such as the Blackhawk helicopter and C-130 aircraft. Apache helicopters have been consistently used by Israel for attacks on urban Palestinian areas and “targeted assassinations.”  Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and United Nations commissions have reported the repeated and regular use of these in human rights violations and war crimes committed by the Israeli military in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza

Other Controversies

In addition to controversies connected to product failures and contract cancellations, 3M has been the target of public campaigns because of its complicity in the exploitation of prison labor, age discrimination against older workers, and controversies relating to environmental concerns.

3M has faced lawsuits from the State of Minnesota after refusing to pay for decades of discharging polluting chemicals into the Mississippi River.

In 2011 3M settled three age discrimination lawsuits brought both in state courts and filed by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) because of illegal terminations of hundreds of highly-paid workers over the age of 45. 3M was ordered to pay $3 million in monetary relief and implement a review process. In a separate filing in Minnesota state courts, 3M agreed to pay $12 million to settle another age discrimination lawsuit with 7,000 current and former employees that claimed that older workers were disproportionately downgraded in the company’s performance review system. 3M also reached a settlement in another age-discrimination suit filed in San Jose, California, though the terms of that settlement have not been disclosed.

3M products have been linked to environmental destruction and deforestation, particularly because of its paper-sourcing practices around the world. It was criticized for labeling its products “green.” As part of the international campaign to force 3M to change its forestry practices, in 2014 Jim Ace of ForestEthics noted, “Post-it notes with no recycled content, sandpaper that comes from endangered caribou habitat, and sponges that are linked to human rights violations have no place on the shelves of the 21st century.” In March of 2015, 3M severed its connections to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and issued a new policy requiring its suppliers to trace and report the original forests sources of wood, paper, and pulp, and to get the informed consent of indigenous people before logging begins on traditional lands.


Economic Activism Highlights
  • On April 3, 2013, the Associated Students at the University of California Berkeley voted to divest their own funds from 3M, and to request that the UC Regents do the same because 3M exploits prisoner-workers and benefits from mass incarceration.