3M Co

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A multinational conglomerate that supplies raw materials to prison labor programs and operates in the prison healthcare industry. 3M used to operate electronic monitoring systems and make components for weapon systems.

3M Company, founded as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, is a multinational conglomerate headquartered in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In 2022, the company generated $35 billion in annual revenue. 3M operates in the safety and industrial, healthcare, and consumer goods sectors. Some of the company's well-known brands include Post-It Sticky Notes, Scotch Tape, Scotch-Brite, Command Strips, and ACE Bandages.

Prison Labor

3M is the main supplier of U.S. prison labor programs that manufacture license plates and other products that require adhesive or light-reflecting materials, such as road signs. The company markets its license plate manufacturing technology specifically to prisons, stating that "by working with 3M, correctional facilities have access to a full suite of equipment, materials, resources and support to help them produce high quality license plates."

3M has contracts with prison labor agencies ("correctional industries") in at least 12 states as of 2023: Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas. This is almost certainly an undercount, as in some states, identifying these contracts is more challenging than in others. In addition, 3M supplies the Federal Prison Industries (FPI)/UNICOR with materials for license plates, decals for federal law enforcement vehicles, road signs, and advertising displays.

As part of its central involvement in the prison labor industry, 3M is a "Corporate Plus Member"—essentially a sponsor at the highest level—of the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA), a private trade organization that regulates the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP).

3M has spent millions of dollars lobbying in favor of state laws that promote the sale of prison-made license plates. The company pushes legislation that would require frequent and unnecessary replacing of license plates. Such laws favoring 3M have passed in multiple states, including in Alabama, Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Washington.

In 2021, 3M partnered with police lobbying groups to create the "FRNT PL8" campaign, which promotes the use of a "universal front license plate."

Prison Health Care 

3M provides health care software and services to government agencies, including some state prison agencies. The company held contracts, for example, with the Nevada Department of Corrections for "prison medical care" in 2019. 3M also provided patient data and classification software to the Mississippi Department of Corrections until 2022.

In 2021, 3M exhibited its products at a conference hosted by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC), a nonprofit organization that works with health care companies to "improve the quality" of health care services they provide to jails, prisons, and youth detention centers.

Weapons Used Against Civilians - Past Activity

Between 2012 and 2020, 3M was a major military contractor through its subsidiary Ceradyne, which provides body armor, ballistic helmets, and ceramic armor systems to the U.S. and other militaries. During those years, Ceradyne received more than $700 million in direct contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, and also provided its armor products to other military companies for integration in their weapons systems. In 2020, 3M sold Ceradyne to British company Avon Rubber, which subsequently changed its name to Avon Protection.

For years, Ceradyne has been the sole provider of advanced ceramic armor for the Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter, Israel's primary attack helicopter. Apache helicopters are consistently used by Israel in attacks on urban Palestinian areas and in "targeted killings." Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations have reported repeated and regular use of Apache helicopters in human rights violations and war crimes committed by the Israeli military in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon.

Ceradyne outfitted other military aircraft used by the Israeli Air Force, including the Lockheed Martin UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and C-130 Hercules aircraft.

Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance - Past Activity

Between 2010 and 2017, 3M played a major role in the e-carceration and immigrant surveillance industries through its subsidiaries Attenti and Cogent, respectively.

Attenti, originally named Dmatek, is one of the world's largest manufacturers of electronic monitoring equipment. Headquartered in Israel, it specializes in GPS tracking devices, namely ankle and wrist shackles. Under 3M, Attenti was named 3M Electronic Monitoring, and its products were used to surveil more than 200,000 individuals, annually, in 40 countries around the world. Between 2013 and 2018, 3M had contracts for the e-carceration of people on probation or parole in, for example, California, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington, and New Zealand.

Between 2005 and 2017, Attenti, together with G4S, was awarded a contract to provide electronic monitoring technologies to Israel's home detention program. The contract was last renewed in 2014.

3M sold Attenti to private equity firm Apax Partners in 2017. Five years later, Attenti was acquired by Allied Universal, which merged it with G4S Monitoring Technologies and rebranded it as Allied Universal Electronic Monitoring Services.

Cogent is an "identity management" company that makes finger, palm, face, and iris biometric systems. 3M marketed these products to border control agents, police, the military, and other state and federal agencies for use at security and border checkpoints, prisons, and military buildings. Its 3MTM Live Face Identification System, Automated Fingerprint and Palm Identification System, and Automated Biometric Identification System are widely used by law enforcement.

In 2013, when Israel began issuing biometric passports, 3M's KR9000 passport scanners were installed at border checkpoints at the Erez Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip; the Allenby Bridge between Jordan and the West Bank; and several military checkpoints within the West Bank.

In 2017, 3M sold Cogent to digital security company Gemalto, which was acquired two years later by military company Thales.

Other Controversies

3M has faced various lawsuits and campaigns over its role in exploiting natural resources and discriminating against its older employees.

In 2018, the State of Minnesota reached an $850 million settlement stemming from a 2010 lawsuit alleging that the company's production of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or "forever chemicals," contaminated drinking water and natural resources in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. The toxic, non-stick chemicals, which don't break down in the environment and are linked to diseases, polluted over 150 miles of groundwater across the region and affected more than 170,000 individuals.

Between 2017 and 2020, at least 13 federal lawsuits were filed against 3M in Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas, alleging that its Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), used to fight fires, contaminated groundwater and soil and led to public health threats and illnesses, including skin cancer.

From Post-It Notes to masking tape, 3M products have also been linked to deforestation around the world. While sourcing paper, pulp, and packaging from "fragile forests," the company labeled many of its products "green" and promoted the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), a certification label that has been maligned by environmentalists for failing to adequately protect forests. In 2015, following a multi-year campaign led by ForestEthics, Greenpeace, and other environmental organizations, 3M announced a new sustainability policy that would reduce the impact of its sourcing practices on forests and wildlife.

In 2011, 3M settled a nationwide age discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after unlawfully laying off hundreds of employees over the age of 45. In 2011, the company also agreed to pay $12 million in a Minnesota case involving as many as 7,000 current or former employees who alleged that older workers were disproportionately downgraded by the company's performance review system. 3M also reached a settlement in a separate age discrimination lawsuit that had been filed in 2009. Terms of this agreement 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
14 March 2023