The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
Freshman Noelle Ciaciuch finishes her shift in Gwinn Commons. Gwinn Commons is one of the many dining facilities on campus run by international food services company Sodexo.
Photo credit: ALEX HERBIG/The Falcon.
Seattle Pacific uninvolved in student protests
By CHRISTINE COOK,
Published: January 11 2012
Dinner in Gwinn Commons, bagels at Falcon’s Landing and catering at events such as Shapadooah: Sodexo provides all of these things at Seattle Pacific.
But recently, Sodexo has found itself wrapped in controversy centering on allegations of violating national and international human rights. The company has faced complaints of poverty-level wages, sexual harassment, inadequate sick-leave policies, lack of health coverage and anti-union behavior.
Students are protesting Sodexo at more than 14 universities nationwide, according to United Students Against Sweatshops, an organization headed by college students fighting against issues of injustice.
After three sit-ins during May 2011 ending in a total of 55 arrests and a yearlong campaign against the company, University of Washington terminated its contract with Sodexo on Dec. 14, 2011.
Other universities that have terminated their contracts with Sodexo within the last year include Pomona College, Regis University, Northeastern University and Western Washington University.
UW sophomore Gaby Guillén said UW protestors stood against Sodexo despite having no student workers on campus. It didn’t matter to them whether UW students were directly affected, she said, because other people are.
The protestors urged the university to abandon what Guillén described as a business-minded mentality and completely sever ties with the company.
SPU senior Lindsey Blake, president of the on-campus chapter of Amnesty International, said that because of SPU’s commitment to impacting the world, questions of Sodexo’s integrity should be catching the attention of staff and students.
“We need to investigate this,” Blake said. “Do we really want our money going to a company that abuses workers?”
Murray Lawson, director of University Services, said SPU has not been affected by these controversies.
“We have never had a labor problem on campus,” Lawson said. “[The protests at UW were] a corporate issue, but it never filtered down on a practical level.”
SPU has partnered with the French food giant for more than 20 years. Lawson said said SPU continually works with Sodexo and is currently collaborating with its corporate staff to assess student satisfaction with the dining and retail programs.
“We work with them every year to negotiate the upcoming year for terms,” Lawson said. “We review prices [for retail and catering] on an annual basis.”
However, Lawson said that in the decade he has worked in University Services, SPU has never requested a proposal or bid from Sodexo, a process that would require them to compete with other companies for its contract.
Monica Zimmer, director of public relations for Sodexo, said the company’s mission is to improve the quality of daily life for all the people they serve.
“It’s important to recognize that we have 391,000 employees around the world,” Zimmer said in a phone interview. “Even if a very small percent makes mistakes, that does not mean the company has systemic problems.”
The company has been accused of providing poor working conditions abroad by both USAS and TransAfrica Forum.
In a March 2011 letter written to USAS by members of the SitraSodexoDO union, employees cited being paid poverty wages, lacking safety equipment, being overworked to the point of illness, lacking health coverage, and anti-union behavior.
Further, Sodexo fired four workers for challenging labor practices at Barrick Gold Mine in Pueblo Viejo, Dominican Republic, according to USAS.
SPU junior Ella Schrader worked for Sodexo Catering during her freshman year. She said that although she didn’t enjoy the hours or the job’s lack of organization, she was treated fairly.
“It could have been better, but all in all, it wasn’t terrible,” Schrader said.
For some university students nationwide, the allegations against Sodexo warrant the elimination of Sodexo’s presence on their campuses.
UW junior Morgan Currier and Guillén wrote a statement that explained how USAS and UW stood in solidarity with universities nationwide to end contracts with Sodexo.
“If our university truly cared about human rights, they could no longer do business with companies [that] blatantly violate the rights of their workers in five different countries,” the essay said.
Guillén wrote in an email that the students against Sodexo at UW were in contact with different campuses, as well as with Carina Meisis, one of the workers fired in Pueblo Viejo.
“We are worried for the workers in the U.S., but also for workers off shores. No human being deserves to be treated like some of the workers are treated,” Guillén said.
The allegations, she said, also exist in the United States.
“Nationwide, there have been several cases on campuses where workers are paid below the poverty line, not allowing them to buy basic necessities,” Guillén said.
Zimmer said in response to student protests, UW created the Sodexo Due Diligence Working Group, a group formed to investigate claims of workers’ rights violations.
Out of 50 total allegations against the company, 54 percent were either not corroborated or deemed indeterminate. Of the remainder, 34 percent were judged to be violations that were sufficiently resolved by Sodexo. The remaining 12 percent remain unresolved.
Some of the allegations that were found true and were resolved by Sodexo included violating workers’ rights to freedom of association, unsafe working environments, and underpayment of workers.
Zimmer said that not only is Sodexo a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact, but it also has a real commitment to its employees.
Sodexo provides fair-trade coffee, supports local vendors and works toward sustainability on SPU’s campus, according to their social responsibility pamphlet.
“I wouldn’t work for a company that wasn’t reputable,” Zimmer said.
Lawson said that the student protests at UW are the result of only one union.
“Sodexo has over 300 collective bargaining agreements with nearly every union in the U.S.,” he said.
As for SPU, Blake said that she has been in contact with Amnesty International on the matter. She hopes they add Sodexo to their list of campaigns.
Blake said that this quarter, she plans to speak with other globally minded clubs and explore this issue further to decide whether action should be taken on SPU’s campus.
“I want to see what letter writings we can do, or hold a session at SPU to bring awareness,” Blake said. “This is an advantage to having a smaller school; even if a few hundred send letters, that could open floodgates for us to investigate this.”
She cited SPU’s removal from the protests as a result of an uninformed campus community.
“If SPU workers were treated badly, which they never would be, obviously we would fire Sodexo,” Blake said. “We don’t hear about these things because it’s not in our SPU bubble.”
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