Aramark is a subcontract services company that operates in 22 countries around the world, with its headquarters in Philadelphia, PA. Most known for its food service operations, Aramark is a high volume service provider to universities, sports arenas, hospitals, hotels, and prisons. The company is the largest provider of “managed service solutions” in the corrections market in the United States, focused on food service, uniforms, and facilities management (including cleaning/janitorial, staffing, commissary, and project management services).
Of the company’s $14.8 billion in sales in 2014, 15% came from Aramark’s “Sports, Leisure, and Corrections” business. Aramark Correctional Services (ACS), provides food service, “offender training,” commissary offerings, and operates laundry facilities and inmate property rooms. ACS works in over 600 correctional institutions across the United States and Canada. Aramark serves more than 1,000,000 meals to prisoners each day. In its 2014 annual report, Aramark identified its “Sports, Leisure, and Corrections” business as a “profit growth segment” due to an expected expansion in corrections business. Since 2010 Aramark has spent $1.07 million on congressional lobbying on behalf of its Sports, Leisure, and Corrections business, including on the issues of food safety and the expansion of its activities into other government-owned facilities.
Aramark has come under scrutiny for its corrections services business, accused of severe health and safety violations by lawmakers, citizens’ groups, and the media. Officials have also accused the company of food shortages, massive sanitation violations, unauthorized food substitutions, and undercooked food. In 2015, inmates filed suit in federal court, alleging that Aramark failed to handle food safely, use equipment properly to prevent food spoiling and failed to hire and train enough people to prevent food spoilage or contamination. In 2009, Aramark food caused prison riots in Kentucky, with damage of up to $17 million dollars and injuries to both prisoners and guards, and also in 2014, it sparked prison protests in Michigan.
Across the United States, Aramark employees have been fired for smuggling drugs into prisons, sexual contact between employees and inmates, and solicitation of murder-for-hire as recently as 2015. Reports from Aramark workers as well as the company's filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission indicate these incidents, which compromise the safety of inmates, employees, and the general public at large, are the result of inadequate training as well as high employee turnover due to poor working conditions.
In response, lawmakers have made demands to cancel contracts with the company, especially after audits revealed Aramark regularly defrauds taxpayers by overcharging states and violating contract terms. Aramark was forced to end its services in Florida in 2008 after the state accused the company of contract violations. Ohio fined the company $142,000 in 2012 for a range of contract violations, including failing to hire enough workers. In 2014 Michigan fined Aramark $98,000 for food shortages, unauthorized menu substitutions, over-familiarity between kitchen workers and inmates, and $200,000 more in August after problems persisted. Consequently, Aramark became the target of both citizen campaigns and officials from the Michigan Corrections Organization, US Senate, and two state employee unions, pressuring the Civil Service Commission to reject Aramark for renewal because of health, safety, and financial concerns. Michigan officials canceled their contract with Aramark in July 2015, more than two years before it was set to expire.
Aramark has previously lost food service contracts at universities across the United States over poor quality and health concerns. The company has also come under fire for severe health code violations at its sports facilities.
Student-led university campaigns in Washington, D.C, Florida, Tennessee, and Newfoundland, Canada have targeted Aramark for food quality concerns as well as its treatment of workers, while also criticizing the company’s ties to prison industries.