SEATTLE- At least 25 students were arrested after occupying a campus administrative building in protest of the University of Washington’s contract with Sodexo, a giant food service provider.
The students participated in the sit-in, which started in the office of university president Phyllis Wise, and ended in a conference room. They gathered to demand that the school’s contract with Sodexo, which is due to expire in June of 2012, be ended over the multi-national corporation’s record of worker’s and human rights abuses.
Sodexo has a troubled history.
The corporation has had charges brought against it by the National Labor Review Board for infringing on worker’s free speech rights and by their own workers for wage theft.
They had to pay public schools in Columbus, Ohio, $ 1.7 million for charging for food that was paid for by the federal government. The corporation lost their $764 million contract with the U.S. Marine corps for overcharging and underperforming in food preparation.
And most recently, the USDA is proposing a national audit of all public school food services in response to New York public schools being overcharged $20 million by the corporate giant.
While many might not recognize the name Sodexo, chances are the average American has an intimate relationship with them. Any location with a cafeteria, school, hospital, nursing home senior center, theme park and even many workplaces rely on Sodexo’s service.
They are also involved in vending, maintenance, retail, landscaping, security, housekeeping and custodial work.
Over 18 student groups including Kick-Out Sodexho and Wise at the University of Washington are involved in the protests.
Despite representatives from Sodexho visiting the campus to discuss the issue and one student travelling to France for a meeting at corporate headquarters, “Dialogue with companies like Sodexo is not going to be enough, you really have to take a bigger step, hit them where it hurts and terminate the contracts,” said one of the student protesters.
The day after the arrests, students planned another action to coincide with a meeting of the Board of Regents, gathering at Red Square, just outside of the administration building occupied the previous day.
Students say the issue will not be dropped until the contract, which also supplies Husky stadium, is ended.
The administration claims that human rights violations and sweatshop-like working conditions don’t qualify as just cause for terminating the contract. Norm Arkans, university spokesperson, said, “The question is: Do we terminate a contract based on allegations of corporate misbehavior in other parts of the world?”
The students of the University of Washington answer, “yes.”
Correction: This article originally used the old spelling of Sodexo. In 2008, the company changed its name from Sodexho.