A US-based provider of food service, facility management services, and uniforms globally. Provides food and other logistical services to prisons and immigration detention facilities and uses forced prison labor.
Aramark is a food service, facilities management, and uniform provider headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The company claims to be the second largest provider of food and facilities services in North America. It provides these services to school districts, colleges and universities, healthcare facilities, businesses, sports, entertainment venues, convention centers, national and state parks, and prisons. With operations in nineteen countries around the world, the company’s 2020 revenue was $12.8 billion, about 12% of which is from its prison business.
Through its subsidiary Aramark Correctional Services, Aramark is the largest provider of food services to U.S. prisons, having 38% of the market share. Aramark has been working in prisons since 1976 and calls itself a “corrections dedicated company” in its promotional materials. The company reported serving 400 million prison meals annually and working in more than 500 prisons as of 2018. Aramark provides food and commissary services to the entire state prison systems of Kentucky and Indiana, and to individual prisons and jails in at least 20 other states as of 2018. Other than providing food, Aramark also operates prison kitchen maintenance and cleaning, laundry facilities, a gift package system, and property rooms, where prisons store the belongings of the people they incarcerate.
Aramark also provides food to immigration jails of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For example, private prison companies CoreCivic, which operates ICE's Western Tennessee Detention Facility, and LaSalle, which operates ICE’s Prairieland Detention Center in Texas, subcontracted Aramark as their food vendor for these jails. In other cases, Aramark provides food to state and local prisons that ICE uses to jail immigrants. These include, for example, prisons in Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, and Rhode Island. In these cases, Aramark does not contract directly with ICE, but with the company or local authority that operates the jail.
Aramark has a long history of providing sub-standard food in prisons. The company reduces quantities and has been repeatedly accused of severe health and safety violations, sanitation violations, unauthorized food substitutions, undercooked food, and food shortages. For example, in 2019, Aramark was sued by people who were incarcerated at California’s Santa Rita Jail for serving expired and spoiled food, as well as food infested with rodent, insect, and bird droppings. Though this case was dismissed on technicalities, rats, cockroaches, and bird droppings continued to be found in Aramark’s food as of November 2020.
In another example, in 2015 the State of Michigan canceled Aramark’s contract to provide food to its prisons and jails and fined the company $200,000. Michigan initially awarded the company a three-year $145 million contract in 2013, but terminated it less than two years later, because of food shortages, unauthorized menu substitutions, and inappropriate relations between company employees and prisoners. This came after reports that Aramark had served in Michigan's prisons maggot-infested food at least once in 2014 and again in 2015, food from the trash, and food partially-eaten by rodents. In 2015, Aramark settled a lawsuit filed by people incarcerated in Kent County, Michigan, after suffering food poisoning by fly larvae in their food. Similarly, in Ohio, the company's prison kitchens were found to have "maggots, mice turds, employee shortages, substandard food, and unsanitary conditions." In 2009, Aramark food contributed to prison riots in Kentucky.
Aramark uses prison labor to prepare and package food in some of the prisons where it works. Under the company's IN2WORK program, more than 6,000 people incarcerated have worked in their prison's kitchen, many of them for as many as 40 hours a week. However, the company classifies them as "students" rather than "employees." Aramark was sued in 2019 for involuntary servitude at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, CA. People incarcerated at Santa Rita have been forced to perform unpaid labor for Aramark under threat of longer sentences, solitary confinement, and transfers, according to the lawsuit. They prepared and packaged more than 16,000 meals a day, and some of this food was sold to other California jails. Their lawyer estimated that Aramark and Alameda County owe millions of dollars in wages to incarcerated workers. As of 2021, the case is still pending.
In addition to food, Aramark has also provided uniforms, clothes for released prisoners, laundry services, and catering services to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). As of 2021, Aramark’s only such ongoing contract is with CBP, for uniform laundering services, worth $28,000.
For years, Aramark has been the target of student-led campaigns asking universities to stop contracting the company as their food vendor. Divestment campaigns targeting Aramark at New York University and Barnard College in New York as well as Trinity College in Ireland were successful in canceling their university’s contracts with Aramark. Students from Hamline University passed a resolution in the student congress to end ties with Aramark as the university's food service provider. Students at Georgetown, Harvard, Princeton, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Louisville, Vanderbilt, and Yale have also put out calls to end their university’s ties to Aramark.
Aramark employees have been repeatedly found engaging in different kinds of misconduct.
More than half of the 300 Aramark employees fired in Ohio from 2013 to 2017 engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with incarcerated people. Five more Aramark employees were charged with sexual misconduct in prisons both in Missouri in 2015 and Michigan in 2014.
An Aramark employee in Michigan was suspected of approaching an incarcerated person about arranging to have another incarcerated person killed in 2014.
- In April 2021, the state of Mississippi did not renew its contract with Aramark to provide food for state prisons. This came after a lawsuit was filed against Mississippi state prison officials by incarcerated people who claimed that they suffered food poisoning and severe weight loss because food was often spoiled, rotten, molded, uncooked, and contained rat, bird, or insect feces.
- In March 2021, Kent State University dropped its contract with Aramark as a food service provider after student opposition.
- In September 2020, students from Hamline University passed a resolution in the student congress to end ties with Aramark, the university's food service provider.
- In January 2020, Trinity College in Ireland terminated its contract with Aramark following years of student opposition.
- In March 2019, New York University (NYU) dropped its contract with Aramark as a food service provider after student opposition and replaced it with Chartwells.
- In April 2019, following suit, Barnard College also dropped its contract with Aramark as a food service provider after student opposition and replaced it with Chartwells.