The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday June 8th

Opinion: UNC needs to divest from Aramark for its prison abuses

The UNC community has a blind spot. Despite lukewarm advocacy to improve prison conditions and to transform a culture that proliferates and profits from the mistreatment of prisoners, the University continues to finance the expansion of public and privatized prisons through its contract with Aramark.

Aramark provides our campus dining halls with the food we eat at increasing prices. Additionally, Aramark is responsible for hiring (and firing) within Carolina Dining Services. A cloak of misdirection over UNC students makes it difficult to see how a dime spent on meal plans is a dime spent toward sustaining the prison-industrial complex.

Currently, Aramark is contracted by 500 correctional facilities and serves 380 million meals annually in these facilities. It reports a 97 percent retention rate with the legislative bodies that run prisons — a reflection of the blindness most legislators have to the inherently inhumane conditions within prisons and to the complaints of people detained within them.

In Michigan, 250 inmates reported illness after eating low-quality chicken tacos provided by Aramark. Of those inmates, 16 sued Aramark, and their case came to a settlement in September. This is not the only incident of prisoners complaining about Aramark’s food quality. In 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called for the complete divestment from Aramark due to similar reports and breaches of contract within their state. So while some governments might not have a quarrel with Aramark, many of the people they are “serving” do.

For example, its FreshFavorites program is labeled as a behavior-management tool, and it serves as a food-based reward system that gives better-quality food to incarcerated people who have good behavior. There is no rationale for depriving some of nutrition, while rewarding others with food. Food should not be a behavior incentive; it is a necessity that should not be withheld or downgraded on any contingency — withholding it for any reason is morally unjust, yet it is happening, and Aramark officials are allowing it.

Students who feel an inkling of social awareness or obligation to question the prison-industrial complex and its food security should encourage UNC to divest from Aramark. Investing elsewhere should be a significant concern. There is no rationale for depriving nutrition or building political stock in public and private prisons.

Critics of divesting from Aramark have touted its recognition by Ethisphere as one of the world’s most ethical companies as a shield for its involvement in funding public and private prisons. Not only is ethical judgment relative, but this praise doesn’t take into account analyses of how Aramark treats or mistreats certain prisoners or takes financial advantage of students.

While it is true that Aramark has worked well on this campus in the realm of sustainability and employment, its entanglement with the prison-industrial complex must end. If this is impossible, then we must urge the administration, starting with student government all the way up to the Board of Trustees, to divest from firms that are profiting from prisoners. With this knowledge, if the University does not act, then it, too, is a part of the perpetuation of the current prison economy.


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