3M Co

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3M Company is a conglomerate corporation operating in the manufacturing, health care, and consumer goods industries. 3M Supplies materials for prison labor programs and for weapon systems used against civilians.

3M Company (formerly Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company) is a publicly-traded diversified technology corporation headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota. 3M operates globally, and its business sectors include industrial manufacturing, safety and graphics, electronics and energy, healthcare, and consumer goods. In the U.S. consumer market, 3M is most commonly associated with general household and office supplies such as Post-It sticky notes, Scotch tape, Scotch-Brite cleaners, Nexcare bandages, and Command wall hangers. The company has an array of other consumer brands (3M website lists more than 20,000 products). In 2017, 3M reported $31.7 billion in revenue and employed 91,536 people.

Support and Supply to US Prison Labor Programs

3M holds contracts with several states, including the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA), an agency that manages prison labor in California, where the contracts worth is over $27.6 million. As of 2014, incarcerated workers manufactured license plates in 43 prison factories across the country for 40 states and the federal government. According to its website, 3M offers “license plate solutions” to correctional facilities in the form of license plate manufacturing materials systems. This includes equipment, reflective sheeting, validation sheeting and stickers, and facility-specific installation.

In addition to providing the raw materials, 3M has lobbied aggressively in favor of state laws that promote its sales, such as laws that require replacing license plates. From 1998 to 2017, 3M spent over $56 million lobbying the federal government, mainly in the manufacturing and distributing industry, 31 percent of which was spent between 2011 and 2013. In 2014, 3M lobbied the federal government for a law that required replacing the license plates every seven years, arguing that the reflective coating it produces loses reflectivity over time. Although traffic safety experts and highway patrol officers testified that the reflective coating is effective for much longer, the law was passed. By 2020, Washington motorists are expected to buy over one million additional license plates. A higher turnover of license plates means greater profits for 3M’s licensing manufacturing businesses.

In 2008, UNICOR, the federal government’s prison labor corporation, contracted 3M’s wholly-owned subsidiary Ceradyne. The contract, worth $9.6 million, supplied UNICOR with ceramic shields to produce helmets for the U.S. military. In 2010, UNICOR lost the contract with the U.S. military after 44,000 helmets were recalled for not meeting Army ballistic standards. The manufacturing problems were attributed to UNICOR, which no longer produces helmets for the U.S. military. Ceradyne continues to manufacture and sell advanced body armor systems and helmets to the U.S. military.

Military Sales and Weapons Production 

From 1998 to 2017, 3M spent $308,000 on lobbying the defense industry. Although this amounts to only 0.55 percent of 3M’s total spending on lobbying, it has contributed to a sizeable proportion of the company’s government contracts with the Department of Defense. In 2015 alone, 3M had over $80 million in government contracts, 90 percent of which were with the Department of Defense. The Army and Navy were the two largest sources with contracts of $42 million and $13 million, respectively. 3M supplied products and services ranging from medical and dental supplies to firefighting and data processing equipment.

In 2015, Ceradyne had $37 million in contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense. Ceradyne is the sole provider of ceramic aircraft armor for the Boeing AH-64 Apache and other attack helicopters, and of body armor plates and combat helmets for all branches of the U.S. military. Additionally, Ceradyne supplies DEFENDER armor systems, including ceramic armor seats, components, and panel systems for many military helicopters. Ceradyne armor tiles are also used in military transport aircraft. In May 2016, 3M was awarded a $92.7 million body-armor contract by the Defense Logistics Agency. The body armors are inserted into tactical vests used by U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.

Monitoring and Surveillance - Past activity

From 2010 to 2017, 3M was in the electronic monitoring business through its subsidiary, Attenti, which manufactures devices such as ankle bracelets for monitoring detainees under house arrest, parole, and probation. In 2017, 3M sold Attenti to Apax Partners, a private equity firm for $200 million.

Through Attenti, 3M was previously involved in ankle-monitoring software and devices. In 2011, the State of California canceled its contract with 3M to provide electronic monitoring devices for 7,900 people on parole. 3M’s electronic monitoring systems were criticized for inaccuracy and false reports. The monitoring devices failed 46 of 102 field-testing standards and it was reported that the device batteries died early, their cases cracked, tampering alerts failed, and tracked locations were off by as much as three miles. These failures resulted in people being arrested and imprisoned for false parole violations. In April 2012 parole agents throughout California were ordered to remove every 3M ankle monitor in use.


In 2017, 3M also sold its identity management business, including monitoring software, to Gemalto for $205 million. Prior to this acquisition, 3M provided 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 were 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 barcodes, checked by scanners. 3M also used to manufacture 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) were and continue to be widely used by law enforcement.

Human Rights Violations in Israel/ Palestine

Ceradyne, a wholly-owned subsidiary of 3M, is the sole provider of ceramic aircraft armor for the Boeing AH-64 Apache, Israel’s primary attack helicopter, as well as for other military aircraft used by the Israeli Air Force, such as the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and the C-130 Hercules aircraft, both made by Lockheed Martin. 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 Apache helicopters in human rights violations and war crimes committed by the Israeli military in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Previously, 3M was involved in additional occupation-related projects in Israel, but it divested both relevant subsidiaries in 2017. The first was involvement in the military checkpoint system in the occupied Palestinian territory. Since 2013, when Israel started issuing biometric passports, 3M KR9000 passport readers have been installed in all Israeli border security checkpoints. This includes the Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza Strip, the Allenby Bridge between Jordan and the West Bank, and several military checkpoints inside the West Bank. In 2017, 3M sold to Gemalto its identity management business, which includes the contract for passport readers.

The second occupation-related contract that 3M divested in 2017 is 3M Electronic Monitoring, which had its origin in Israeli company Dmatek Ltd., established in 1990. Later renamed Attenti, the company established itself as a global leader in the field with contracts throughout Europe, Russia, and in Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. 3M bought Attenti in 2010, but the company remained a separate subsidiary, headquartered in Israel. Between 2005 and 2017, the company 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. In 2017, 3M sold its electronic monitoring business unit to Apax Partners, a private equity firm, for $200 million.

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.

In 2017 alone, 3M faced twelve federal class action lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and New York, alleging that 3M’s Aqueous Film Forming Foam, used for firefighting, has contaminated the soil and groundwater. In 2011, 3M faced a lawsuit from the State of Minnesota after refusing to pay for decades of discharging polluting chemicals into the Mississippi River. 3M knew of the dangers presented by these industrial chemicals for 40 years, citing 3M’s own research from the 1970s. In 2018, 3M settled the lawsuit for $850 million. Minnesota state will be using the settlement money to address its massive water contamination problem, but it will be impossible to fully remove the chemicals from the groundwater.

3M products have also been linked to environmental destruction and deforestation, particularly because of its paper-sourcing practices around the world. The company was criticized for labeling its products “green.” In 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.

In 2011, 3M settled three age discrimination state-level lawsuits 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 three million dollars in monetary relief and to implement a review process. In a separate filing in Minnesota state courts, in March 2011, 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.

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.

Unless specified otherwise, the information in this page is valid as of
9 August 2018