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A US-based company that provided food service, facilities management, and uniforms globally. Provides food and other logistical services to prisons and uses prison labor.

Aramark is a food service, facilities management, and uniform provider headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. With operations in nineteen countries around the world, the company’s 2018 revenue was $16.2 billion. Aramark claims to be the second largest provider of food and facilities services in North America, i.e. the U.S. and Canada. The company provides these services to more than 1,400 colleges, universities, and K-12 school systems; 1,100 hospitals and other healthcare facilities; sports venues, where it also manages concessions, merchandise sales, and merchandise sales, and lodging services for 144 professional teams, including in the NBA, NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball; large businesses, convention centers, tourist resorts and other attractions; and prisons.

Aramark is one of the largest providers of food services to prisons in the U.S., through its subsidiary Aramark Correctional Services (ACS). The company stopped disclosing the number of prisons it operates in after 2010 when it reported on its website to serve food in more than 600 prisons. When Aramark became publicly-traded in 2014, it reported operating in prisons that incarcerate over 300,000 people. As of 2019, the company reports serving 380 million prison meals a year, suggesting small growth in its prison business since 2010, when it reported serving over a million prison meals a day. Fifteen percent of Aramark’s total sales are generated by its “Sports, Leisure, and Corrections” segment, which the company does not disaggregate further. Other than food services, Aramark provides kitchen maintenance and other logistical support to prisons, including operating commissaries, laundry facilities, and property rooms, where people’s belongings are stored while they are incarcerated.

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.

In 2019, the company was sued for involuntary servitude by eight people incarcerated at the Santa Rita Jail, the main jail of California’s Alameda County. According to the lawsuit, people incarcerated at Santa Rita prepare and package more than 16,000 meals a day at the jail's industrial kitchen, and some of this food is sent to other jails in California. Starting as early as 2015, people at Santa Rita have been forced to do this work “under threat of punitive measures by their jailers” and receive no pay, in violation of California law.

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.

Economic Activism Highlights
  • In January 2020, Trinity College in Ireland terminated its contract with Aramark following years of student opposition.
This profile was last updated on
25 November 2019