Boston University, Cut Ties with Aramark

Boston University, Cut Ties with Aramark

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We demand that Boston University end its contract with Aramark while maintaining and improving the current contracts of all current Aramark employees employed at BU. Aramark is a massive dining services company that directly profits off of and perpetuates the prison-industrial complex, and we demand that our tuition dollars do not go into perpetuating the suffering and imprisonment of Black and brown people. 


What are the next steps?

If President Robert Brown wants to follow through with the promise to “take steps to fight racism and promote social and economic justice”, we must make active decisions to end this university’s investment and support of the police state. This means canceling BU’s contract with Aramark while protecting current worker’s rights and contracts. This has been done before. Yale canceled their contract with Aramark in 2007 and moved to an in-house operation.  

We demand that Boston University do the following:

  1. Transition to self-operation dining system within the next 5 years whilst maintaining and protecting the contracts of current dining hall and other services workers
  2. Maintain transparency throughout this process 
  3. Publish all investments made with its endowment and take active steps to completely divest from private prison system 

What is the prison industrial complex?

The prison industrial complex, according to scholar Angela Davis, is a racist system through which corporations, government, correctional communities, and media profit off of filling prisons with Black and brown people. This system not only involves prisons themselves, but the police and the court system, which disproportionately arrest and convict people of color. The system also involves companies like Aramark, which utilize prison labor and profit off of the incarceration of Black and brown people. 

The United States currently holds the highest incarcerated population in the world. Black people are only around 13% of the US population, and yet composed around 34% of the prison population in 2014. Why? This is due to the over-policing of Black and brown communities, and a racist criminal justice system. A 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that white and Black Americans use drugs at similar rates, and yet Black Americans are 6 times more likely to be imprisoned on drug charges than white people. This is just one of the many ways the criminal justice system abuses Black and brown people and communities. For further research, we recommend you watch the documentary 13th (free on youtube) and read Angela Davis’ work “Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex” also available free online. 

What does Aramark have to do with it? 

Aramark is a massive food service and facility services company that works throughout the United States and Canada. It is one of the largest prison food services, serving more than 1,000,000 prisoners a day. Aramark profits off of people being in jail - the more people in jail, the more food the prisons need, the more government contracts and profit Aramark gets. Aramark also does business with ICE, profiting off of the kidnapping and incarceration of migrant children in cages. 

To get a picture for how Aramark profits from the prison industrial complex, consider how they run their facilities in prisons. They spend around 1$ a meal per incarcerated person, and the portion sizes are inhumanely small. And in return, corporations like Aramark can make between $40,000 to $50,000 a year for every person put behind bars. That population includes incarcerated immigrants that have committed no crime. Al Gordon, who is incarcerated at Union County Jail in New Jersey, detailed his experience as a worker in the jail’s Aramark led kitchen, stating, “...You could eat six portions like the ones we served...and still be hungry. If we put more than the required portion on the tray the Aramark people would make us take it off. It wasn’t civilized. I lost 30 pounds. I would wake up at night and put toothpaste in my mouth to get rid of the hunger urge. The only way a person survived in there was to have money on the books to order from the canteen, but I didn’t have no money. It was especially bad for the diabetics, and there are a lot of diabetics behind bars” (Hedges).

Aramark maximizes profits by serving low quality food to incarcerated people. People housed in these prisons have reported finding maggots, mice, and feces in their food. Aramark has been confronted for its severe health and safety violations by lawmakers, citizens’ groups, and the media. In 2015, incarcerated people filed suit about food safety in a federal court. In 2009, and again in 2014, Aramark food quality triggered prison riots in prisons, causing damage and injuries to both prisoners and guards. 

Aramark further profits from putting people in jail through their use of prison slave labor. The company is valued at $16.2 billion, and yet does not pay the incarcerated people that work diligently preparing their food trays. Recently, incarcerated persons at Alameda County Jail sued Aramark, claiming they were forced to work for free. Keep in mind the contract between Aramark and Alameda County is valued at $94.5 million. 

It is thus no surprise that Aramark has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians in the last 25 years. Some claim that Aramark utilizes these funds to entice politicians into increasing the U.S. prison population. 

But what do prisons have to do with me?!?

They have everything to do with you. Your tuition money is, in some respects, enabling the government to imprison somebody - to take them away from their loved ones, and strip them of their future. Keep in mind that 1 in 5 incarcerated people are locked up for drug offenses. Incarcerated people are not faceless statistics - they are human beings, and they deserve equitable living conditions. 

But even if you still didn’t care about the prison industrial complex, Aramark has a shoddy record when it comes to respecting its employees’ labor rights, including racial discrimination, low wages, and not providing adequate time for rest breaks. 

  • Throughout the years, Aramark has been involved in multiple efforts to block their employees from unionizing (in 2015 at Morehead State University and in 2008 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • In 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs determined that Aramark discriminated against 335 male and African-American applicants for food service worker positions. 
  • In 2010, Aramark settled a lawsuit with employees that alleged it “denied its workers the meal and rest breaks to which they are entitled under California law.” (Law 360). 
  • In 2012, it allegedly forced housekeepers to choose between feeding their families or paying for healthcare at Bard College. 


Hedges, Chris. "Food Behind Bars Isn't Fit for Your Dog." Truthdig, 23 December 2013.