sodexho working piece

What is Sodexho and Why Should I Care?

 

If you’ve eaten food out of UIC’s campus café’s or bought a meal plan from the university in the past year or two, you have paid for and eaten food catered by the private transnational corporation Sodexho. While catering may seem like a business that is relatively harmless, especially when compared to other corporations that manufacture more obvious implements of destruction like fighter jets or warheads, don’t be fooled! Sodexho, much like more infamous military contractors Blackwater or Halliburton, are only interested in one thing: profits. Sodexho has a history of putting profits before the safety of their food and the quality of their hospitality services, and before their employees’ rights to unionize for fair wages and health care. Furthermore, as it has been contracted to provide services for the United States Marine Corps and US Embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sodexho is more than willing to put profit before human life.

 

How Privatization Schemes Made Sodexho a Giant

 

The last few decades have seen a great increase in government policies, both in the US and her Big Brother the UK, that serve the interests of private corporations. These policies take the form of de-regulation of the public sector, opening it up to encourage private corporations to contract business with governments. As way of an example, rather than having the government employ folks to cook, clean, and “secure” bases in Iraq, the US encourages private corporations to compete for contracts where companies like Sodexho end up feeding US Marines on taxpayers’ dollars. And its contracts like these, which run upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars, which have made Sodexho as huge and successful as it is today.

 

This process of privatization and de-regulation have also forced corporations to compete with each other, thus driving down the prices of their services to make them more attractive. The weight of these price gouges, however, falls onto employees of the companies themselves, and Sodexho is no stranger to refusing living wages and health benefits to their employees. But we will touch on that later.

 

How does Sodexho secure all of these kushy government contracts? For starters, Sodexho’s accountancy firm, Price Waterhouse Coopers, the largest of the world’s five most prominent accountancy firms, doubles as a lobbyist for Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) and Public Private Partnerships (PPP). It effectively sends glowing reports to governments on why they should privatize, thus not only stuffing the pockets of their clientele, like Sodexho, but their own as well.

 

Sodexho’s senior vice president of government affairs, Reginald E. Gilliam Jr., was senior vice president of Hill & Knowlton Public Affairs Worldwide Company, one of the world’s five largest public relations cabals based in Washington, DC. While he worked for the aforementioned PR consortium, he serviced domestic and international corporations, cities and universities. He also served as Chief of Staff under Rep. Louis Stokes (D, Ohio) and as commissioner of the US Interstate Commerce Commission. The Chairman and CEO of Sodexho’s Marriott International, JW Marriott Jr., sits on the President’s Export Council. In this post, he advises Bush on export trade issues. In addition to chumming around with the President, Sodexho gives campaign contributions to folks in Washington, serving to further endear themselves to the same people who award them million dollar contracts.

 

Sodexho and the US Military

 

In 2001, Sodexho secured a contract of $881 million with the US Marine Corps to provide meals at 55 Marine Corps mess halls for 8 years. In 2002, Sodexho was contracted by the US Government $324,000 to provide food, machinery, and services for a US Embassy cafeteria in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Center for Public Integrity) Sodexho has served meals and provided logistical support to US soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines during Desert Storm, Operation “Restore Democracy” in Haiti, and Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia/Croatia. Sodexho is also present at the US Strategic Missile Testing Range at Kwajalein Atoll (read: caters the genocide of south pacific islanders). Sodexho can be found working for Uncle Sam at 98 defense facilities in Korea, where they serve up GI quality slop to more than 100,000 troops, civilians, and military dependents. (Sodexho’s website: www.sodexho.com/military.asp) Sodexho Defense Services has 60 contracts with the UK Military.

 

Gone are the days where Beetle Bailey would get paid by The Sarge to feed an army; instead, Sodexho can pay whatever “competitive” wages they desire to unskilled, un-unionized laborers, putting Beatle back in the line of fire. Unless, of course, he himself decides to switch sides when his tour is up and join the lucrative world of corporate War Profiteers. Should he decide to do so, he could actually kill two birds with one stone by getting a job with Sodexho, who not only serves the US Military, but also the private corporations that are competing with it for government funding on the ground.

 

From Corpwatch:

 

“Sodexho has provided remote services to all the major oil, gas, construction and mining companies including BP-Amoco, Halliburton and Rio Tinto…[It] manages corporate gymnasiums for, amongst others, Shell UK, Clydesdale Bank, Land Rover, Glaxo Smithkline Pharmaceuticals and Norwich Union.”

 

The list goes on: Chevron, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum, Texaco, Bechtel, Daewoo, Hyundai, and Caspian Drilling.

 

Sodexho Horror Stories

 

So maybe Sodexho is a war profiteer. They’re the world’s most powerful catering company! At least the service has got to be top rate, right?

 

From Corpwatch:

 

“…in Cape Cod, an automatic slicer that cut off part of a woman’s thumb was not dissembled and cleaned before a cafeteria worker used it to cut vegetables for hundreds of Barnstable High School student lunches. A small piece of the employee’s thumb was later found by a student in her sandwich… Another example was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where more than 500 parents and residents of the Nazareth Area School district signed a petition calling for an end of contract with Sodexho for managing its five school cafeterias. Complaints range from expired freshness dates on bread and milk to lack of consistent management… In El Paso, Texas, a dietician who had stopped working for Sodexho five years previously claimed that Sodexho forged her signature to approve the nutritional quality of the menu.”

 

Sodexho’s Labor Practices

 

Sodexho and the For-Profit Prison Industry

 

The Point

 

UIC is contracting business with a War and Prison Profiteer, and every time we eat on campus, our money is going into the hands of one of the world’s largest food services corporations with a shady history of labor abuses.

 

We live in a world where the only comparable system to direct democracy is capitalism, where each dollar we spend serves as a “vote” to empower whatever corporation from which we are purchasing. In the cases of UIC and the US Military, their vote is clear: for food services, they approve of Sodexho. But even a cursory glance of Sodexho’s corporate history reveals that this company is run unethically.

 

If you disagree with Sodexho’s labor practices and status as a corporation that profits off of the death and destruction of war ravaged countries such as Afghanistan, then STOP SUPPORTING SODEXHO ON OUR CAMPUS. Personal actions can be as simple as boycotting on-campus food and packing your own lunch, or talking to others about the implications of purchasing food every day from a War Profiteer.

 

Past Resistance to Sodexho:

 

Students from across America have worked in solidarity with Sodexho employees to demand the right to unionize. Students from Plattsburg State and Colorado College have contributed significantly to pro-union campaigns against Sodexho. Xavier University, DePaul University, and the State University of New York at Albany have severed their contracts with Sodexho because of the company’s union politics and their ties to the for-profit prison industry. The Prison Moratorium Group and student group Not With Our Money helped organize students at 60 campuses across the US in boycotting, letter writing, and direct actions that effectively ended contracts with Sodexho at several of the campuses. These campaigns continue. Wesleyan College and Harvard pushed to get “reasonable” benefits and higher wages for their Sodexho employed janitorial staff. Solidarity actions were held by the CNT in France, targeting Bateaux Parisiens, a company owned by Sodexho. And this list is by no means exhaustive.

 

The People & Planet group is pressuring Cotham School in Bristol to sever their contract with Sodexho if it doesn’t bring Fair Trade products to their campus stores. In Palo Alto in 2002, parents led a similar campaign to get organic foods in their children’s cafeterias. The downside was this nearly doubled the cost of student meals. Getting Sodexho to carry Fair Trade and organic products in select locations does not, however, improve working conditions or products company-wide. If anything, this gives Sodexho more leverage by letting them make their corporation appear bit-by-bit more “green,” a term that is quickly loosing any vital political significance. While the bourgeois consumers of America would like to ease their guilt for glut through purchasing power by selecting “green” and organic products, this serves only to stratify those who have access to healthy foods by economic class. By relegating “activism” to the market place and further criminalizing those who take direct and instrumental action against environmental degradation, the largely white environmental movement that we know from the 1970s is fast losing steam. In its place, however, is an integration of social justice and environmental groups who are working to illustrate the racist and classist ways in which nations and corporations wish to hide their health and environmental catastrophes behind this “green” curtain.

 

 

 

References:

 

Unless otherwise stated, a majority of the factual information in this article came from Corpwatch’s Company Profile on Sodexho, which can be found at:

http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=347

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~ by scamuic on November 14, 2008.

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