Ethical student alliance takes on multinational

September 14, 2001

A coalition of US and Canadian students is accusing a corporation that runs most of the continent's college cafeterias of having too much involvement in the private prison industry.

For the past 18 months, a group of about 50 colleges and universities has been organising sit-ins and information sessions to denounce multinational service provider Sodexho.

The coalition, Not With Our Money, has been trying to convince the multinational to divest its private prison interests.

In June, the group claimed a major victory. The multinational sold its shares in Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison provider in the US, a result, the activists said, of pressure from their movement.

Sodexho said it had been planning to divest before protests began, due to CCA's falling stock.

Despite Sodexho's divestment from CCA, the students say the corporation's holding company, France-based Sodexho Alliance, still invests in the private prison industry. The corporation seems to have expanded its efforts by acquiring UK Detention Services (UKDS) and Corrections Corporation of Australia. According to the alliance, Sodexho is making a private prison bid in Chile.

Newspaper reports have focused on Sodexho's minimum-wage exemption from the British government, which allows UKDS to pay detained refugees 34p an hour for cleaning and cooking.

Kevin Pranis, whose New York-based Prison Moratorium Project has been behind much of the lobbying, is impressed with how the complicated corporate picture has been distilled by students.

"Students have a good grasp on the way multinational corporations work," he said.

Canadian student Tanya Ferguson helped organise a publicity campaign at the University of Toronto, which included handing Sodexho the "First Annual Dishonorable Service Award" in March.

Students from DePaul University, a Jesuit institution in Chicago, decided to employ religious teachings in their campaign.

"The company's interest in creating a system in which they profit from increased incarceration stands in direct contrast to Catholic social teaching and Jesuit beliefs," the students wrote on their website.

In May, Sodexho lost the DePaul food services contract.

Other contracts have also been terminated at the American University in Washington and Ohio's Oberlin College after protests. Sit-ins have also taken place at the universities of Texas and Ithaca.

Sodexho spokeswoman Leslie Aun said it had been unjustly targeted in an era of unprecedented student activism.

Sodexho, which runs 4,748 facilities in higher education institutions around the world, reportedly generated $1.2 billion (£820 million) from its university operations in North America.

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