Calling on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to divest from prison slavery

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This Black History Month, we are calling on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to divest from Aramark Company, a food service company that has well-documented links to forced labor within prisons. 

On July 21, 2020, we wrote to HBCU colleges that have contracts with the company calling on them to divest from Aramark. We have only heard back from Spelman College, who are considering our request.  

Today, we are reiterating our call to action alongside Be Better Belmont asking the colleges to divest and take leadership within the movement to end modern slavery in the United States.  

For too long the United States public and private industry has gotten away with exploiting labor from inmates and immigrant detainees, often earning massive profits in the process, at worst under threat of penalty or punishment.   

Our call to divest from Aramark does not seek to undermine the potential positive value of prison labor in rehabilitation when it is provided on a freely agreed contract by the prisoner. However, we are seeing a system of exploitation that disproportionately impacts black and brown communities, for cheap labor, that in some cases is tantamount to modern slavery.   

Aramark Company is part of the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). 

The PIECP is a key reason why Aramark Company is directly tied to labor exploitation. PIECP is a scheme where private companies who have contracts with government-run prisons can get away deducting up to 80% of detainees’ wages, meaning they work for almost no pay, creating an economic incentive for this system. In fact, in the Santa Rita Jail case, Sgt. Ray Kelly, the sheriff’s office spokesperson, admitted that “The whole operation is run by the Aramark corporation,” adding that the county’s arrangement with Aramark is less expensive than paying wages and benefits to non-incarcerated employees. 

It is clear that there is a growing, inspirational movement across the United States for divestment from the prison industrial complex. The New York Times has profiled the work of Robasciotti & Philipson, an investment adviser focusing on social justice and ending systemic racism, which specifically recommends divestment from Aramark due to its contracts with over 500 correctional facilities across the country. President Biden recently signed an Executive Order calling on the Department of Justice to no longer renew their contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities

Since our first letter, an increasing number of colleges and universities contracting with Aramark is now under pressure from students and alumni to sever ties with the food services company. We have seen students at Princeton University, Georgetown University, and even Carleton University in Canada demand that their institutions divest from the prison industrial complex, starting with Aramark. Institutions of higher education should not be contracting with companies directly linked to documented cases of human rights abuses in the prison industry. 

We urge HBCUs to end their contracts with Aramark, thereby divesting from modern slavery and standing up to abuses facilitated by the prison industrial complex.  

Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.