Scripps students boycotted Scripps College’s Malott Dining Hall during lunch on Thursday in order to protest Scripps’ contract with its dining hall provider Sodexo, accusing Sodexo of racism, exploitation of labor, environmental violations, and management of private prisons. Organized by Scripps student campaign Drop Sodexo, the boycott as well as a simultaneous protest outside the dining hall were aimed at ending Scripps’ contract with Sodexo. Drop Sodexo urged students to eat at other dining halls in the Claremont University Consortium (CUC) during the boycott.
According to the event description, the organizers invited students to “join the Drop Sodexo campain [sic] in protesting Scripps’ contract with Sodexo! This is a boycott of Malott lunch services on the 30th as well as an alternative community lunch event. We want to show the administration that students are serious about ending the Sodexo contract. You showing up to this event will help do that!” Following the boycott, Drop Sodexo claimed success, writing that “Malott was basically empty for all of lunch.”
The Drop Sodexo campaign organized the boycott because it claims Sodexo—a French multinational—is involved in “civil rights abuses…neoliberalism, anti-unionism, substandard food quality…racial discrimination, major class-action lawsuits, ownership of private prisons, and much more.” The students also claim that Sodexo exploits “neocolonial relationships that allow them to acquire raw materials from nations of the Global South.” Drop Sodexo also states that by “continuing business with a company that has such an extensive corporate crime record, we [Scripps] are providing a monetary endorsement for the increasing exploitation of land, people, and communities throughout the world.”
In an interview with The Student Life—the administration-funded student newspaper of the Claremont Colleges –student organizer Rebecca Millberg (SC ’17) accuses Sodexo of having “a history of horrible labor practices and food safety violations and worker exploitation,” adding that “it shouldn’t be hard for Scripps administration to see that it [the contract with Sodexo] goes completely against our values.”
Scripps administration subsequently informed student organizers that terminating Sodexo’s contract before its 2020 expiration could result in over $1 million in “legal fees and a variety of other expenses” that could “reduce funding for other important priorities, such as financial aid and faculty and staff compensation.” In a separate statement in response to students’ calls to end its contract with Sodexo, Scripps administrators stated that “the College does not have a policy of disqualifying contractors based on their client or investment portfolio.”
Drop Sodexo has suggested that “Scripps could choose any number of dining management companies besides Sodexo,” including in-house dining services. But when Pomona College — the flagship institution of the CUC — stopped contracting with Sodexo in 2011, many dining hall staff lost their positions at the College.
It doesn’t help that many of Drop Sodexo’s accusations run counter to Sodexo’s actual track record.
While Sodexo did settle an $80 million lawsuit brought by black employees on the basis of workplace discrimination back in 2005, it has since won numerous awards for diversity and inclusivity, including NBIC’s “2016 Best of the Best Corporation for Inclusion,” DiversityInc’s “2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity,” and Working Mother’s “Best Companies for Multicultural Women.” The French multinational has also recently received awards for sustainability, its commitment to hiring and retaining military veterans, and LGBT inclusion in its workforce.
Drop Sodexo also charges that Sodexo has “a consistent pattern of interfering with worker rights in many states,” and it has criticized the company’s “anti-unionism” actions against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In fact, Sodexo took the SEIU to court for employing illegal tactics to unionize workers, including blackmail and extortion. Faced with the possibility of a highly damaging public relations fiasco and civil liabilities, the SEIU agreed to terminate protests against Sodexo in exchange for dropped charges.
The student campaigners have also criticized Sodexo’s food quality and safety, stating that “to avoid having allergic reactions, many students limit themselves to eating the same foods for each meal because the labeling cannot be trusted.” Malott has been rated as one of the best campus dining halls in the country by the Princeton Review.
According to Drop Sodexo, the French multinational is responsible for the “privatization of the prison industry” and has exploited “unpaid or underpaid labor from private prisons.” While Sodexo divested its investments from American private prison corporation Correction Corporation of America in 2001 — nearly two decades ago — charges that Sodexo has poorly managed private prisons abroad are substantiated, as evidenced by the Sodexo-managed prisons HMP Northumberland and HMP Forest Bank in the United Kingdom.
Sodexo has operations in developing countries such has Colombia, Guinea, Morocco, and the Dominican Republic.
Drop Sodexo did not respond to requests for comment.