This is letter to the editor submitted by sophomore Ben Wallis originally appeared in the April 7 issue of the Index.
Six years ago, Human Rights Watch released a 132-page report on violations of collective bargaining rights in the United States by multinational corporations, 19 pages of which were dedicated to Sodexo. The report details how Sodexo on multiple occasions fired workers attempting to unionize — a practice forbidden by both domestic and international law. This information may come as a surprise to many students at Truman, who daily rely on the company’s services for cheap and convenient food. Certainly, it is not in Sodexo’s interest that such facts be discussed or debated by a wide audience.
However, it is vital that Truman students critically evaluate partnership with organizations that do not reflect our own commitments to social justice. An examination of Sodexo’s record reveals what I consider a pervasive contempt for the ethical treatment of workers and communities around the world—a contempt that we would be irresponsible to accept.
For nearly a decade, Sodexo maintained significant investments in the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit private-prison company. In 2000 CCA was the subject of an investigative Mother Jones article, exposing the widespread abuse of inmates at these facilities. Protests at Sodexo’s university sites erupted in response, and by 2001 the company was forced to sell its CCA shares. However, Sodexo still maintains services in some 122 prison sites across Europe and Chile, including the “total operation” of five private prisons in the UK. Sodexo’s world-wide prison enterprise brought in near 459 million dollars of revenue in 2014. The ethical problems that excited student protests in 2000 are therefore no less relevant to students today.
Additionally, Sodexo pays poverty wages to workers across the world. According to a report compiled by the advocacy group TransAfrica Forum in 2011, Sodexo employees in the United States received pay so low many qualified for federal anti-poverty programs. Interviewees also complained of being systematically denied overtime, with their shifts routinely being cut short in overzealous attempts at cost-management.
Workers in Guinea, Morocco, and Colombia fared no better, making just the legal minimum-wage in each country. In all cases considered, Sodexo employees described working in dangerous conditions that had significant health risks. As a company that makes sixteen billion dollars a year in total revenue, Sodexo cannot reasonably justify these practices as “necessary.”
Obviously, Truman State’s relationships with contracted service-providers are complex, and often entail disagreements in values and principles.
However, this does not mean that students should ignore the implications of generating profit for corporations like Sodexo. If we consider the maintenance of private prisons and the mistreatment of workers to be intolerable, we cannot accept a continuation of the status quo. Numerous universities have successfully divested from Sodexo, demonstrating the existence of credible alternatives. Truman students have a responsibility to prove the seriousness of our verbal commitments to social justice. If using Sodexo’s services does not fit with these commitments, demanding divestment certainly will.