'Corporations cause harm everyday. Why do their harms go unchecked? How can they dictate what we produce, how we work, what we eat, drink and breathe? How did a self-governing people come to let this pass?' David Korten, one of the most articulate advocates of "people-centered development," entitled his most recent book When Corporations Rule the World (Kevin Danaher and Jason Mark).

Who is Sodexho?

For as long as Hampshire College has been established, we have contracted out the management of our dining services. The original contract was with SAGA, then Marriott when Marriott bought SAGA, then Sodexho Marriott due to a merger between Marriott (the catering/food service division of the company) and Sodexho, which eventually became Sodexho Alliance when Sodexho bought Marriott's shares of the company. Considering our dining service has been run under the management of Sodexho either directly or indirectly since the opening of the college, I think that it's our responsibility, as members of an institution that supports this corporation, to learn more about it.

In order to attain a relatively unbiased understanding of Sodexho, it is important to utilize a variety of resources that approach the description of Sodexho from different angles. The following compilation of research comes from looking at both Sodexho's description of itself (through websites, information passed on by members of the Hampshire community, and information from a Sodexho representative), as well as from organizations whose mission it is to investigate corporations and expose their findings to the public.

Depending on where you look, "Sodexho is either "the world's largest food catering organization" or "the world's second-largest caterer after the UK-based food and management services group, The Compass Group"" (Corporate Watch). Sodexho is also, according to its website, "the world's largest remote site management company" ("Sodexho Homepage").

According to the website of Sodexho USA, the North American subsidiary of Sodexho Alliance that manages Hampshire's dining service, "Sodexho is the leading food and facilities management services company in North America... [that] offers a full range of outsourcing solutions to the corporate, healthcare and education markets, including food services, housekeeping, groundskeeping, plant operations and maintenance, and integrated facilities management" ("Sodexho USA"). Its mission statement is to "improve the quality of daily life for the people we serve" ("Sodexho Homepage").

Sodexho Alliance, the parent company that is based in Saint Quentin En Yvelines, France, employs over 315,000 workers at 24,700 sites in 74 countries, and makes about $12.6 billion in annual sales (Not With Our Money!). Sodexho USA, which is based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, employs "around 110,000 people and works in all 50 states. It also has partnerships with more than 10,000 US suppliers" ("Windfalls"). Sodexho USA manages over 700 dining services in the U.S.

History of Sodexho

Today, Sodexho's areas of industry include: Food and Management Services, Remote Site Management (services for people working at on-land and offshore construction projects, oil rigs, forestry operations, and mining facilities), Service Vouchers and Cards, and Leisure Services.

According to Sodexho's 2001-2002 Annual Report, the breakdown of industries in which it operates is the following:

Who is in charge of Sodexho? Pierre Bellon, the man who started the company, has been easing has way out of the Chief Executive Officer position for the past couple of years, and is now in the position of Chairman of the Sodexho Alliance Board. His son, Bernard Bellon, is now the CEO. There are two Chief Operating Officers, Jean-Michel Dhenain and Michel Landel (who is also president of the company). The president and CEO of Sodexho North America is Dick Macedonia.

Since its beginning, Sodexho has grown into an incredibly large corporation- from managing one corporate dining room to employing workers at 24,700 sites in 74 countries. They have joined the Fortune 500, which means they have been identified as one of the largest corporations in the US, and they bring in about $190 million in profit each year (Corporate Watch).


As a multi-national corporation, Sodexho is associated and involved in many projects, some of which are incredibly controversial. One of the most controversial issues around Sodexho in the US has been their involvement with private prisons. In order to understand what it means to invest in the private prison industry, the first question to ask is what is the private prison industry?

Due to the exceptional increase in the number of Americans behind bars, local, state and Federal governments have been forced to increase expenditures in correction facilities. This has provided an opportunity for the development of what is called the "prison-industrial complex."

The prison industrial complex refers to the rapid number of people behind bars in the US ("the highest per capita incarceration rate in the history of the world") as well as the intimate connection between private business and government interests that perpetuate this influx of prisoners (Not With Our Money!). This system not only consists of public prisons, which are in many cases profit-motivated, but also private prisons, which are undeniably profit-motivated.

Private (for-profit) prisons, jails and detention centers, are like public prison facilities, but they are run and sometimes even owned, by corporations. These corporations have a "fiduciary responsibility," which means that they have a legal obligation to act first in interest of their shareholders. In other words, the corporations are obligated to do whatever they can to maximize their profits and increase the value of their stock shares. It is legal for corporations to perform the functions of a prison because the law is ambiguous around this issue.

The oversight of private prison management is supposed to come from the public agency that contracts out with the private prison company but this is not always successful. For example, in Youngstown Ohio, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) took in prisoners from the District of Columbia. Apparently CCA lied to officials about what was actually occurring in the prisons, and they also refused to let state legislators inspect the prison. Before CCA was required to address the problem, two people were murdered and five people escaped from the prison.

Private prisons, jails, and detention centers have spread since 1984, when they started. They now house over 100,000 people (2002), which is 6% of the incarcerated population in the US. Half of the private prisons are operated by CCA and 25% by Wackenhut (Not With Our Money!).

Myths About Private Prisons

One myth about private prisons is that they save money for taxpayers. There are three reasons why this is not the case. The first is that private prisons do not rely on "private" investors to create prisons. Although private prison companies may initially borrow money from alternate sources, that money is agreed upon in the initial contract between the private prison companies and the state agency. A concern may be that private prisons actually cost more for taxpayers because private financing works more like credit, where money is used without necessarily being accounted for up front. This example suggests that private prisons cost at least as much, and maybe more, taxpayer money.

A second reason why private prisons do not save taxpayer money is that they use the money they save (by cutting wages, training, educational programs, etc) to pay for campaign investments, lobbying, company executives, pro-private-prison research, etc. So, although money may be saved through "efficiency," that money is used not to benefit taxpayers, but to benefit the private prison companies (Not With Our Money!).

A third reason why taxpayer money is not saved is that the private prison industry has been known to come to the public when in need of help. For example, in Mississippi, Wackenhut convinced allied legislative officials that, in order to continue operating, they needed money to cover the cost of their "ghost beds" (spaces that the state did not need). This financial support occurred at a time when the state was going through a funding crisis in their school system. According to these examples from the 'Not With Our Money!' Campaign, the private prison industry does not save taxpayer money.

The private prison industry does not simply respond to the needs of society- they use their financial power to influence criminal justice policies as well as politicians to guarantee a place for itself in society. The industry is an active member in influencing criminal justice policies in order to gain support for its interests. This means that they influence the policies to guarantee a regular influx of prisoners and money for prisons. Both the CCA and Wackenhut are (2002) the leading contributors to the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is a right-wing lobby group that is mainly supported by corporate sponsors (Sodexho worked with CCA up until 2001) (Not With Our Money!),. Through this connection, the private prison companies were able to get legal support in prison privatization as well as pass "tough-on-crime" legislation that helps maintain an inflow of prisoners.

The industry also maintains its power by donating large sums of money to political campaigns. For example, "Between 1995 and 2000, the big three (CCA, Wackenhut and Cornell) spent $520,000 on Federal campaigns," not to mention the $540,000 that was spent on state elections in 1998 (Not With Our Money!).

Conditions in Private Prisons

There is ample evidence showing that the conditions in private prisons are far worse than the conditions in public prisons. James Austin, a criminologist, conducted a survey in 1997 that "shows that rates of violence were 49% to 65% higher in public than private prisons. The levels of violence are related to turnover rates that, according to The Corrections Yearbook, were almost three times higher in private than in public prisons during 1998 (41% compared to 15% per year)" (Not With Our Money!).

The conditions in private prisons may be made clear more from the stories of people than the statistics. For example, "Anthony Bowman, a young African-American man who died of pneumonia while serving a six-year sentence for check forgery, after a CCA doctor denied him adequate medical care. CCA's doctor was working under an incentive contract, later rules unconstitutional, that allowed him to double his salary by achieving reductions in medical care" (Not With Our Money!).

Unfortunately, prison privatization is potentially causing the conditions in public prisons to fall as well. There is an element of competition between the public and private prison industries where the public prisons are trying to cut costs to compete with the private prison industry.

Concerning the overpopulation of the Federal prison system, private prisons are not the solution, just as they are not the solution for state systems. The reason why Federal prisons are becoming more populated is because there has been an enormous increase "in the number of people sentenced for drug offenses (from 30,470 in 1990 to 75,625 in 2000) and immigration offenses (from 1,728 in 1990 to 12,266 in 200)" (Not With Our Money!). Possible solutions to the overcrowding problem are for Congress to take on similar sentencing reforms as many states are already trying, and to support the Federal Bureau of Prisons in moving nonviolent offenders out of prisons into community corrections toward the end of their prison time, which would provide a more transitional learning environment for the prisoners as well as create space in the prison.

Of course, members of the private prison industry have their own side of the story. CCA has a whole section on its website called "Myths vs. Reality in Private Corrections: The Truth Behind the Criticism" (Not With Our Money!). This section lists out different "myths" that are told about the private prison industry and denies the validity behind each "myth" by describing the circumstances from their perspective. For example:

MYTH: Private companies save costs by cutting corners in the areas of operations, food service, medical care and staff training/pay.

REALITY: Absolutely CCA does not cut corners to save costs. Because the private industry is not burdened by the time-consuming, bureaucratic procurement guidelines of government, we are able to quickly identify and purchase goods and services at the best possible prices. CCA is able to achieve many cost savings through economies of scale, by contracting for goods and services company wide, thus getting even better prices. Additional cost savings are realized through efficient facility designs that result in more efficient staffing patterns. Savings are also achieved because private companies do not typically have as much administrative bureaucracy as their public counterparts (Corrections Corporation).

Some of the other "myths" that CCA denies include, "Private companies are beholden to their shareholders' interests above the interests and well-being of their government customers and the inmates in their care," and "Private companies are actively engaged in legislation to promote longer and tougher sentences in order to keep beds filled and increase profits." Their responses are certainly persuasive, but a lot of their points are hard to believe having done research on the other perspective. For instance, in response to the myth about promoting tougher sentences, CCA says, "The industry absolutely does not participate in or lobby for stricter sentencing" (Corrections Corporation). The information that the 'Not With Our Money!' campaign refers to contradicts this statement: "CCA and Wackenhut, both leading contributors to ALEC, have used the group's Criminal Justice Task Force to advance their agenda, which includes not only legislation to enable privatization but also tough-on-crime legislation such as "Truth In Sentencing" and Three Strikes," which ALEC has helped to pass in 25 states" (Not With Our Money!).

Conclusion About Private Prisons

I think that the inconsistencies in these issues arise from the way in which they are described by both perspectives. It seems like a lot of it comes down to the words that are used and they way that they are used, such as "The industry absolutely does not participate in or lobby for stricter sentencing." This could also mean that the industry does directly lobby for stricter sentencing but maybe lobbies for other issues that support stricter sentencing, or in other words, through their lobbying, they indirectly get support for their agenda.

Either way, it is a complicated matter, which the different perspectives both admit too. As CCA puts it, "The fact is that corrections, including publicly and privately managed institutions, has been and will always be a controversial and highly regulated one." I can say though, that as much as I take both perspectives into consideration, I find myself leaning more towards the idea that prison management should not be privatized.

How is Sodexho Connected to the Private Prison Industry?

According to a report by Corporate Watch which was completed in 2004, Sodexho manages for-profit prisons in the UK and Australia and has some type of involvement with around ninety-one prison facilities, including prisons in the UK and Australia, but also in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and, most recently, Chile. "Sodexho's subsidiaries- Australian Integrated Management Systems and United Kingdom Detention Services- not only privately operate prisons and refugee detention centers, but also work with governments to design, build and finance new prisons" (Corporate Watch).

Sodexho's affiliations with private prisons no longer exist in the US, a decision that was partially influenced by the multi-national college campus 'Dump Sodexho' campaign that took place between April of 2000 and May of 2001. The campaign ended on May 22, 2001, when Sodexho pulled out of CCA and therefore also cut its ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council. (To read more about the 'Dump Sodexho' campaign, click here).

Unfortunately, Sodexho's involvement with for-profit prisons have ultimately expanded due to their two major acquisitions with UKDS and AIMS that they were in the process of establishing throughout the 'Dump Sodexho' campaign (Not With Our Money!). When Sodexho cut its ties with CCA (Corrections Corporation of America), it cut its ties with the private prison industry in the US, as CCA was the private prison company Sodexho was involved with in the US.

However, according to the 2002 'Not With Our Money!' report, Sodexho holds 10% of private prison beds outside of the US, which means that the capacities of the facilities under their contract is 2, 400 beds. This number will (or maybe has already since these numbers were compiled) increase to 3, 690 beds upon the completion of new UK women's and "mixed-sex" prisons for which it has already won contracts. To point out their concerns with this issue quite bluntly, 'Not With Our Money!' says that the lives of 2000 + prisoners/detainees are in the hands of a catering company.

Answers From Sodexho

When I presented some of this information about Sodexho and prisons to the president of my school, Hampshire College, as well as the food service manager who is employed by Sodexho, a woman named Leslie Aun, the Vice President of Corporate Communications for Sodexho USA, wrote a letter to the school's president addressing some of the issues I raised. After reading her letter and responding to it with questions around what it means to 'own' a prison versus what it means to run/manage an entire prison, she wrote me back with some clarifying explanations. She basically made the point that Sodexho does not own any prisons because it does not own the prison property.

Sodexho does manage the prison facilities, which means that in many cases, Sodexho has control over the entire day-to-day functions of prisons. Aside from directly "providing ancillary services (food, grounds keeping, etc.) to a number of prisons throughout continental Europe, Sodexho Alliance owns for-profit private prison companies in the U.K. and Australia. Sodexho's subsidiaries-Australian Integrated Management Systems and United Kingdom Detention Services-not only privately operate prisons and refugee detention centers, but also work with governments to design, build and finance new prisons" (Corporate Watch). This means that although Sodexho does not directly fully manage prisons itself, it is the parent company of subsidiaries that privately operate entire prison facilities, which puts Sodexho in a position of power over these prisons. To read more about the explanations I received about Sodexho and owning versus managing prisons and for-profit prisons, look at the letters that Leslie Aun and I exchanged.


Another issue that has come up with Sodexho is that it is known for using anti-unionization tactics. Sodexho has been criticized for opposing organized labor, but also for taking it a step further. In 1998, it distributed a manual to their managers called "Progressive approach to Labor: Union Avoidance," which basically described how to fight unions in the workplace. This information was leaked to the International Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union and created quite a stir.

Union organizing is a complicated issue, but for the most part, employees organize unions to protect their rights as workers (to make sure that their working conditions are good and to make sure they're receiving a living wage). If a company is attempting to prevent unions from organizing, it suggests that the company might have something to hide about how it's treating their employees.

In the manual that Sodexho distributed, it informed its managers that the manager to worker ratio is greater when employees are not unionized and are therefore less organized and regulated. Corporate Watch shows that the average weekly earnings of Sodexho employees that were unionized at this time (1998) were receiving $612 whereas the non-unionized employees were receiving $447 (Corporate Watch). Also, another example of the effect of unionizing on worker's pay is that in 1975, when there was more regulation from unions, the CEO salary to worker's earnings ratio was $35 to $1, and in 1995, with less regulation, it was $120 to $1 (Corporate Watch). The manual also included tactical suggestions for preventing unionization, such as "informing a potentially striking employee that he can be replaced if he does strike" (Corporate Watch).

In its 2004 report on Corporate Responsibility, Sodexho says that it has good relationships with unions: "Sodexho has a track record of partnering with unions to directly benefit employees. In the Providence, RI School District, for example, Sodexho and the Laborers International Union Local 226 partnered to create a special educational program, enabling employees to complete an associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree program" ("Corporate Responsibility"). The report also stated, "[O]ur employees have the right to decide for themselves if they want to unionize without fear of harassment or retribution" ("Corporate Responsibility"). These claims caught me off guard, considering I had been reading about multiple cases where Sodexho employees have had difficulty unionizing on college campuses in the US. Sodexho was replaced by Chartwells at Suny Albany University in 2000 after more than a year of challenging legal efforts of the campus food service to win union recognition (under Local 471 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees- HERE). Other examples of colleges that have worked with their Sodexho employees right to unionize include Plattsburg State University and Colorado College. Hopefully the statements in the 2004 report are a response to all of the challenges Sodexho has confronted in regards to unions, and hopefully, its future actions will be reflective of its words.

Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace is another subject that has arisen for Sodexho. A specific case that created a lot of attention was a suit that was filed in on March 26, 2001 in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Ten African Americans who were current or former Sodexho Services employees, filed what became a billion dollar class-action racial discrimination lawsuit, against the company on issues of racial discrimination in its hiring and promoting procedures.

The plaintiffs of the case claimed that they, among dozens of other African-American employees of Sodexho, were passed over for promotion in favor of white employees who had fewer qualifications and/or less seniority. The plaintiffs asserted that "the company-wide promotion process is uncontrolled and entirely subjective, virtually guaranteeing racial bias" (Corporate Watch). They demanded that Sodexho abandon its discriminatory practices and compensate them by providing the warranted promotions, as well as providing the salaries that they would have received had they been promoted earlier.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Nicole Becton claimed that, "We believe that Sodexho Marriott had created a 'glass ceiling' for African-American employees. Sodexho's practices are subjective and discriminatory to African-Americans. Part of the problem is that, while the company purportedly has a formal written policy regarding the filling of vacant positions, the experience of the plaintiffs is that the whole process is completely ignored" (King). Sodexho Marriott officials denied the charges.

The US Supreme Court rejected Sodexho's request to have the case blocked. Sodexho responded in the NY Times that it "firmly denies the allegations and considers the case without merit" (Corporate Watch). "By October 2003, the lawsuit had grown to include 2,600 current and former black managers. The company told the Associated Press that $1 billion dollars is at stake" ("Windfalls"). The case was stalled on October 6, 2003, when "the Supreme Court refused, without comment, to block the case from moving forward" ("Windfalls").

Since this complaint was filed, Sodexho modified one work rule, which is that employees no longer need to receive approval from their supervisors in order to apply for promotion. It's important to note though, that whether or not it is in response to this case, Sodexho USA financially supports a lot of minority groups in the US, including the Congressional Black Caucus Foundations, the Black Culinary Alliance, and the United Negro College Fund.


Another example of Sodexho's controversial activities includes its' asylum-seeker voucher system, which was eventually dismantled in response to widespread resistance from groups concerned with asylum and other justice issues (including Oxfam). An asylum-seeker is "someone who leaves their own country for their safety, often for political reasons or because of war, and who travels to another country hoping that the government will protect them and allow them to live there" ("Asylum"). Sodexho's voucher system, which was funded by millions of pounds by the British government, consisted of replacing cash payments with basic necessity vouchers for refugee prisoners who are not allowed to work while engaged in a trial. The result of the voucher system was that it labeled asylum-seekers, which in turn made them more susceptible to hate crimes, which ultimately prevented them from receiving basic necessities.

Sodexho introduced the voucher system in 2000 to pay the already incredibly low state benefits for asylum-seekers in vouchers as opposed to cash. The plan was initiated as a way to show that the process of claiming asylum is not easy, but it ultimately led asylum seekers to become even more oppressed and impoverished than ever- when the vouchers were presented at supermarkets, asylum-seekers could not receive change, which meant they had to loose money on the voucher or spend it on items that they didn't need. In many cases, voucher-holders were required to wait in different lines- an act that perpetuated the discrimination.

Sodexho was paid around 3.1 million pounds by the UK government to run the scheme and their accounts reveal that they earned 1.1 million pounds during the first year of operation (Corporate Watch). According to Corporate Watch, "An alliance of anti-racist and anti-deportation groups, churches, trade unions and NGO's" resisted the unjust voucher system. In October 2001, the scheme was cancelled.

Environmental Destruction

According to Sodexho's description of themselves, "Sodexho recognizes its responsibility to respect the environment and will strive to achieve environmental best practice throughout its business activity. We believe that everyone has a duty of care for the environment and to seek ways to conserve natural resources. We are conscious of environmental issues and we believe that the pursuit of economic growth can be linked to ecological protection" ("Sodexho Homepage"). Unfortunately, Sodexho's actions are not entirely consistent with its words.

Sodexho has contracts with BP Amoco, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, Texaco, Shell, Daewoo, Caspian Drilling, Hyundai, Halliburton, and Rio Tinto, all of which are companies known for their exploitation of natural resources. On its website, Sodexho boasts, "Universal Sodexho, through its predecessor companies, has a long-standing relationship with the Oil & Gas Industry. We have worked for many of the industry's leading companies in supporting their remote operations around the world. Our resume of experience includes most of the world's significant oil & gas regions: Prudhoe Bay, Alaska - Gulf of Mexico - Campos Basin, Brazil - Lake Maracaibo - North Sea - West Africa - Persian Gulf and Middle Eastern fields - Caspian Sea - Sakhalin Island to name just a few" ("Remote Site").

Sodexho also boasts about its involvement in mining: "Universal Sodexho provides support for mining projects in North & South America, Africa, Asia and the Russian Far East. Our work has extended from mining camps in the Russian Arctic to South America projects at 4,200 meters elevation. Support services are provided during the construction phase, which may last a year or two, as well as the production phase which could extend for decades" ("Remote Site"). Of course we are living in a world that is currently dependent on coal and oil, but it seems strange for a company that boasts about how it seeks "ways to conserve natural resources" to also boast that it is actively supporting the exploitation of the earth's natural resource supply.

Sodexho's Steps Toward Corporate Responsibility

Amidst all of the complications of corporate domination in our society, it's easy to focus on what corporations are doing wrong and dismiss any work that corporations do to become more environmentally and socially aware. It's complicated to truly assess whether corporations are actually doing what they're saying; it's easy for them to say that they'll do one thing but not follow it up with actions, especially since they have lots of money to cover up what could be considered 'bad media.'

At the same time, it is important to acknowledge steps that corporations take to become more aware of the effects of their actions, and to implement policies that respond to this awareness. If at this point in cultural evolution, we can't obliterate all large globalized corporations, we can at least hold them accountable for their actions and acknowledge them for the positive changes that they undergo.

On its website, Sodexho USA has a whole section on corporate responsibility. The section describes the work that it is doing in these different areas: Diversity at Sodexho, Providing Leadership on Food and Nutrition, Respect for Our Environment, The Fight Against Hunger, and Contributing to Our Communities.

"Diversity at Sodexho"

It appears as though Sodexho USA has a positive approach to diversification in the company. According to the page about diversification on its website, "At Sodexho, we believe that diversity is a business imperative and ethical and social responsibility, grounded in our core values of team spirit, service spirit, and spirit of progress. In our continuing effort to attain an inclusive organization and to better serve our clients, we are committed to embracing, leveraging and respecting the diversity of our workforce, our clientele and the communities, in which we live, work and serve" ("Sodexho USA").

Sodexho USA's website talks about how its policy ensures equal opportunity and includes a commitment to affirmative action, and that it brings diversity not only into its workforce, but also its partnerships as well as its suppliers. It even has people who are in positions that specifically monitor these policies; there's a Vice President of Diverse Strategic Partnerships and Alliances and a Director of Supplier Diversity.

Some of the awards that Sodexho USA has received for its work with diversity include:

"Providing Leadership on Food and Nutrition"

As far as 'Providing Leadership on Food and Nutrition,' it seems as though Sodexho USA is doing good work. Although there is a lot of room for improvement (improvement that would definitely be assisted by more initiative to buy local and organic food), I can say that from my experience, the options that Sodexho USA offers provide opportunities for diverse diets and healthy eating. For example, Sodexho USA claims that it is a "leader in providing our customers with vegetarian and vegan options, offering at least one vegan or vegetarian entree, in addition to the salad and soup bars, at each meal at all of the campuses we serve" ("Sodexho USA"). I can attest that this is true, at least in our cafeteria at Hampshire. Sodexho USA also says that it is "currently working to identify vendors who can provide organic fruits, vegetables and other items, so that we can develop a full range of organic recipes and menus" ("Sodexho USA"). Sodexho is currently working with Colorado College, as well as other institutions, to create organic food options.

"Respect for Our Environment"

As for respecting the environment, aside from the complicated situation that Sodexho USA has itself entangled on a larger level, which is described above, on a more place-by-place level, Sodexho USA seems to be taking steps that are reflective of more conscious decision making. For instance, Sodexho USA is implementing recycling as well as composting programs at many of its facilities, both of which we have at Hampshire. We are also working with Sodexho at Hampshire to purchase biodegradable disposable cups, paper plates, and silverware, for occasions where these items are necessary. Sodexho USA is also now offering the option of fair trade coffee at some of its facilities, although it is a controversial topic because the company that the coffee comes from, Green Mountain, mainly produces and distributes non-fair trade coffee. So, even though one kind of coffee may be fair-trade, in buying it, people are still supporting a non-fair trade company overall (although once again, I think that steps toward awareness are better than nothing at all).

Sodexho USA also claims that it is respecting the environment by supporting the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, but apparently, the money that it donates comes from additional sales the corporation makes off of selling mugs to students at colleges, instead of the money coming from profit it's already making. In this case, it's the students who are ultimately donating the money, not Sodexho.

"The Fight Against Hunger"

Sodexho USA's anti-hunger campaign is an effort to compile data about hunger in the United States and to support efforts that address the problem. For example, Sodexho USA uses some college cafeterias (I think only four) to cook meals for local shelters, supports programs that train unemployed workers to salvage and prepare food for people in need and that feed under-nourished children in the summer months. To find out more about Sodexho's hunger campaign, click here.

"Contributing to Our Communities"

As for contributing to communities, Sodexho USA reiterates the fact that it donates money to charitable causes, such as Habitat for Humanity (which it also included in its section on anti-hunger donations), as a way of "participating in community life" ("Sodexho USA"). It seems like it is stretching its charitable donations to fall under two categories (anti-hunger and community development), which is somewhat subversive, but either way, it's good that these organizations are being supported.

I think that what's important to learn from all of these examples is that although Sodexho USA might not be implementing positive policies at all of the facilities in which it is employed, because it says it is doing all of these things, we (as students, as citizens) have the ability to hold them up to their own standards. If the Sodexho cafeteria at your school isn't recycling or composting, or serving healthy vegetarian/vegan options, or serving fair trade coffee, or supporting workers' rights, show them that there's a demand for these items/issues and remind them that these issues are part of its corporate responsibility commitment.

Corporate Responsibility Report

For the past two years, Sodexho USA has produced a Corporate Responsibility Report where it discusses the issues it has focused on throughout the year to become more responsible. Although I challenge a lot of the overarching claims in the report, the specific examples provide hope, and the fact that the report has only been out for two years suggests that Sodexho USA realized it needed to work on shaping up.

In the report, Dick Macedonia (president and CEO of Sodexho, Inc.) and Joan Rector McGlockton (vice president, corporate affairs/corporate responsibility, Sodexho, Inc.) start with a letter:

To be successful, we must conduct our business in an honest and ethical manner. We must be a responsible corporate citizen. Sodexho impacts millions of people, young and old, throughout their day, and throughout their lives. Our mission is to improve the quality of every life we touch. Our sense of corporate responsibility is central to that mission.

Corporate responsibility encompasses a broad range of issues, from business ethics, human rights and diversity to community outreach and environmental responsibility. Commitment to leadership in these areas not only fits with our values, but also makes good business sense. Success in these areas strengthens our ability to attract and retain employees, develop business, and reduce costs and risks.

Every year we strive to strengthen the initiatives and programs that advance corporate responsibility throughout our company. But we've got a long way to go. As the leader in food service and facilities management, more importantly, as a member of thousands of communities across America, Sodexho is working diligently to be a good corporate citizen to our people, our clients, and our neighbors. We welcome your ideas on how to raise our standards and to keep improving every day ("Corporate").

I'm glad that it mentions that it has "a long way to go," and that it is open to the ideas of its customers. This means that we can hold it to its words, keep after it, and offer lots of suggestions.

Overall, the report definitely gives Sodexho USA an appeal for those customers who are interested in working with a more responsible corporation. The report elaborates on the issues described above (Diversity at Sodexho, Providing Leadership on Food and Nutrition, Respect for Our Environment, The Fight Against Hunger, and Contributing to Our Communities) and displays the company in very attractive manner, with lots of smiling faces all around the description of its advancements. I am certainly impressed that Sodexho is making the effort to address some important issues. In putting out this report, the company will have to be responsive to consumers' demands to be held accountable for its actions.

Global Sullivan Principles

One of Sodexho's biggest claims to corporate responsibility is that it is an endorser of the Global Sullivan Principles. According to its website, "Being socially responsible is central to this commitment and the reason why we have become the first company in our industry to endorse the Global Sullivan Principles of Social Responsibility" ("Corporate").

The Global Sullivan Principles of Social Responsibility, which were originally created by Reverend Leon H. Sullivan, "is a code of conduct built on a vision of aspiration and inclusion. The Principles are inclusive in that they embrace businesses' existing codes of conduct and work in conjunction with them. The aspiration of the Principles is to have companies and organizations of all sizes, in widely disparate industries and cultures, working toward the common goals of human rights, social justice and economic opportunity. These Principles are truly unique; they apply to all workers, in all industries, in all countries" ("Global"). Corporations commit to observing the Global Sullivan Principles by endorsing the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation (the membership contribution is supposed to be based on the number of employees from each for-profit company).

From what I have read about The Global Sullivan Principles, they appear to be an excellent guideline for corporate responsibility. They encourage the support of universal human rights, equal opportunity, a living wage, a healthy working environment for all employees, and a commitment to working with the communities within which they do business.

The only problem with the principles is that they are not overseen by an entity outside of the company; the companies that sign onto the principles are responsible for overseeing their own enforcement. According to 'Not With Our Money!,' "The Global Sullivan Principles are a well-intentioned set of guidelines for corporations and other institutions that seek to behave in a responsible way, however, the mere fact of signing on to the Global Sullivan Principles does not, in itself, say anything about a company's commitment to social responsibility" (Not With Our Money!).

The fact that the companies themselves are responsible for enforcing the principles adds some ambiguity to the validity of what it really means when corporations sign on. To add some perspective to the situation, another signer of the principles is Shell International, Ltd, which is well known for its lack of environmental responsibility and its support for the brutal Nigerian government.

An example of part of the principles that the companies are supposed to implement is:

We will develop and implement company policies, procedures, training and internal reporting structures to ensure commitment to these Principles throughout our organization. We believe the application of these Principles will achieve greater tolerance and better understanding among peoples, and advance the culture of peace. Accordingly, we will: Express our support for universal human rights and, particularly, those of our employees, the communities within which we operate, and parties with whom we do business ("Global").

This principle suggests that companies should commit to actively abstaining from violating human rights, but should also actively promote human rights in the communities in which they work. For a company that works in the fields of criminal justice and immigration, Sodexho should be actively working for the just treatment of prisoners and refugees. Unfortunately, Sodexho has not only failed to follow this principle, but has actively violated it. "Not only has the company failed to speak out against unjust criminal justice and immigration policies, but Sodexho participates in the implementation of these policies and profits from activities that have been almost universally condemned by human rights activists" (Not With Our Money!).

One example of Sodexho's violation of this principle is its asylum-seeker voucher system, which is described above. Other examples of how Sodexho has violated the Global Sullivan Principles include "the illegal firing of workers who were actively involved in an organizing campaign and the use of an employee manual containing illegal work rules that blocked protected speech by workers" (Not With Our Money!). For more examples of Sodexho's violations of the Global Sullivan Principles, click here.

It is our (the citizens') responsibility to make sure its actions are reflecting its words (make sure its walking the walk and not just talking the talk). Although we can't take a company's affiliation with the Global Sullivan Principles as proof that it is socially responsible, they certainly provide a good starting point for us to hold corporations accountable for their actions.

Responses To Resistance

The 'Dump Sodexho' campaign, which sought to bring more awareness to Sodexho's irresponsible corporate practices, organized students all over the country (as well as other parts of the world) to protest against their schools relationship with Sodexho.

As part of this campaign, Colorado College did a lot of work pressuring Sodexho to become a more responsible corporation. In 2001, students at the college (who formed under the Colorado College Fair Labor group) released a report to the public documenting practices of Sodexho that they considered unjust. At this time, the college had been subcontracting its janitorial and food service to Sodexho for over fifteen years. Some of the concerns they raised included discrimination against African American managers, paying low wages (below the market), maintaining a record of illegal labor policies, and supporting the private prison industry.

In response to two years of student pressure at Colorado College, as well as efforts of their own initiative, Sodexho USA made some major changes in its corporate practices. The Colorado College Fair Labor website has these changes listed out in a report as the following:


Race and discrimination


At Colorado College

According to the report, "Sodexho now is less involved in prisons than its competitors and its involvement is more explicitly regulated by moral principles" ("Sodexho Corporation"). From my research, I found that this may be the case at this point as Aramark, a competing food service company, also works in prisons and apparently is not working under the same conditions that Sodexho has undertaken (i.e. not owning a prison anywhere in the world and not working in prisons in countries that use the death penalty).

The report also says, "We believe that the best way to run a college is with the college's own employees, paid a living wage. Outsourcing is too often a tool for exclusion, wage cuts, or union-busting," but the students believe that Sodexho USA has responded to their demands with positive changes and is therefore a good option for universities who want to outsource with "an ethical company" ("Sodexho Corporation").

At Hampshire, our local foods student group also believes that, in general, the best way to manage the dining service is with the college's own employees, as opposed to the employees of a large corporation. We also found that although contracting out with Sodexho certainly creates a complicated relationship that has many qualities we are not proud to support, but we discovered that if we can work with Sodexho to continue to push their corporate responsibility (to include local food purchasing), then it appears to be an opportunity for positive change.

The students from Colorado College make an important point:

Victory in a campaign like this does not mean running the corporation out of business, but rather applying enough firm pressure to ensure the practices are changed. If that occurs, both the activists and the corporation have won. In order for activist pressure to be an effective deterrent against bad practices, though, activists must too act in good faith to recognize and reward changes the corporation makes ("Sodexho Corporation").

Although I think that we, student activists across the country, should develop a campaign that actually does work to drive corporations out of business and build up a network of local management systems, within the degree of the campaigns that we are presently working on, I agree that we need to work to encourage positive change and recognize small changes when they happen (accept and acknowledge change, then seek more).

Some of the issues that the students in the Colorado College Fair Labor are still concerned about are that Sodexho still doesn't pay its workers enough, still runs anti-union campaigns, and still has employees without enough health insurance for their families. It's easy for corporations to talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? It's our responsibility as citizens who support these corporations to make sure they're walking.

Alternative Dining Service Companies

Although I don't think that it's necessarily in Hampshire's best interest to switch from Sodexho to another dining service company, I thought that it was important to research the options and compare their policies with Sodexho's, particularly in regards to corporate responsibility.


The Compass Group

Culinaire International

HDS Services


Bon Appetit

Out of all of these management companies, if Hampshire were to switch, I would recommend Bon Appetit. The company appears to really have its act together around being a responsible company. What's even more is that Bon Appetit appears to be based on a foundation of striving to be a sustainable company as opposed to most other companies that are changing their practices to become more responsible in order to appease concerned consumers. The company is starting from a place of awareness.

It was interesting for me to learn about Aramark, because it appears that its corporate practices are as bad, if not worse at this point (now that Sodexho is working to be more responsible) than Sodexho; Aramark is Sodexho's most direct competitor in size, it also has complicated involvements with prisons, and it is very oriented around making profit.

As for the other companies, it seems like they don't have anything better to offer than Sodexho, except for the fact that some of them are still US companies and haven't extended their grip beyond this country.

I am choosing to not pressure the school to switch from Sodexho to Bon Appetit, because first of all, Hampshire would encounter a difficult situation with the current employees similar to if were we to switch to an in-house service. Secondly, if we were to switch away from Sodexho, I would still push (and encourage others to push) first and foremost for an in-house food service, and thirdly, switching food service companies would eliminate our ability to work with Sodexho to encourage it to buy more locally grown and processed food.


When I originally got involved in this project at the beginning of Fall 2004, I had already come to the conclusion that getting rid of Sodexho was the best choice for Hampshire's cafeteria as a step toward localization. Having been inspired by the film, 'The Corporation,' I was resolute that we (the people) need to do whatever we can to cut ties with huge, profit-driven corporations in order to contribute to re-empowering the people. At Hampshire, I saw the outsourced management of our dining service with Sodexho as a prime opportunity to make change. As the year progressed, I learned more about the entire situation and eventually disproved my own pre-determined conclusions about what was best for Hampshire, at least for the time being.

After researching the possibility of creating an in-house food service where the current employees in the cafeteria would become employees of Hampshire College instead of Sodexho, I became aware of how complicated the situation is. First of all, the idea of re-hiring the Sodexho employees as Hampshire College employees proved to not be as simple as it may sound. In switching employers, some of the most difficult aspects include a transition in employee wages, benefits, and pension plans, as well as creating more business management work for Hampshire. As a result of discussions I had with a representative of the human resources department at Hampshire, as well as with the treasurer of our school, I realized that, currently, this type of transition had the potential of being difficult for both the dining service employees, as well as the business office. Not to mention, community members expressed concern over the effects of this transition on the dining service staff, in many cases suggesting that the stability of the staff was more important to them then the localization of the cafeteria. (Click here to read more about difficulties in switching to an in-house food service).

Another issue that I learned about that serves as a roadblock for switching to an in-house food service is that Hampshire is currently in debt to Sodexho. A couple of years ago, we did some renovations on our cafeteria that Sodexho financed, which means that we are in debt to the corporation. Because we are in debt to Sodexho, we are unable to cut our contract with them until we pay off our debts. Although it benefited Hampshire to be able to borrow money form Sodexho to make improvements, it also put us in a situation where Sodexho has power over us. This system of debt-dependence is one that Sodexho has used in other institutions as well, creating a trap of corporate control.

There are ways that Hampshire could work through this debt situation if it really wanted to get rid of Sodexho. For instance, we could work on obtaining a grant to buy more local food in the cafeteria and put some of the money towards paying off Sodexho, connecting the issues by discussing the ways in which Sodexho prevents us from being able to buy as much local food as we want. We could also create a fund to which Hampshire alumni could donate money that would specifically go toward localizing the cafeteria. Another plan would be to encourage the school to pay off the debt as soon as possible, utilizing its own resources, so that it could transition away from dependence on Sodexho as soon as the debt is paid off.

In examining these options, they all seem a bit daunting. The reality of the situation is that creating an in-house food service at Hampshire is currently not a financial priority. There are many other circumstances that are in need of more immediate financial attention, and this reality became clearer to me as I researched the possibility of switching management. Therefore, as things currently stand, making a switch to an in-house food service may not benefit the day-to-day well being of the college as much as it would serve the ideals of the college.

Meanwhile, as these complications became clearer to me, the dining service manager let the local foods team (students, administrators, community members, etc) know that it would be possible to buy local food under Sodexho's management. Up until this point, the students involved in the local foods campaign were under the impression that we would be extremely restricted from buying local food under Sodexho due to the company's strict purchasing policies. When we found out that Sodexho was suggesting that it could be more flexible in buying local food than we originally thought, it changed our (the students') outlook on the situation. We begin to think, 'If it's not looking so good or so possible to have a smooth transition away from Sodexho's management, and now Sodexho is telling us that we could work with its employees to buy local food, why not work with Sodexho, at least for the time being'?

As I considered this possibility, I begin to reconsider my initial motivations for wanting to get rid of Sodexho. These motivations included cutting Hampshire's ties with a corporation that was not representative of Hampshire's values, making an impact on the corporation itself (corporate responsibility), and making a statement of localization in the corporate globalized world. What I realized was that the second motivation, corporate responsibility, would not be achieved if Hampshire got rid of Sodexho because one school out of the many institutions it serves would not really impact it. Also, the third motivation, making a statement of localization, could be achieved whether we got rid of Sodexho or not, because if we chose to work with Sodexho, we would be working with the corporation to encourage further steps toward local food purchasing.

Upon this realization, I, along with the support of other students I was working with, decided that in the present situation at Hampshire, our actions would make more of impact if we chose to work with Sodexho to buy local food, especially if we encouraged Sodexho to make decisions around local food purchasing at other institutions and conversely, encouraged other institutions to pressure Sodexho to buy locally. As far as sustainability goes, perhaps this decision is the most sustainable approach for Hampshire College specifically regarding economic sustainability, as well as for addressing the role of corporations in our current society. This decision, in turn, is partly what led to the creation of this website, with hopes that it will serve as a resource for other institutions, particularly those that outsource with Sodexho, to encourage their dining services to buy more local food.

Ultimately, I still think that it's more sustainable to have an in-house food service, because it puts more decision-making power into the hands of the community members and directly denies corporate control. At the same time, it's important to work with corporations to hold them more accountable for their actions, and the dining service situation at Hampshire appeared to be a good opportunity for this.


Other Food Service Companies:

"Aramark." Aramark Corporation. 2005. April 2005

"Bon Appetit Management Company." Bon Appetit Management Company. 2004. April 2005

"Chartwells." Chartwells USA. April 2005

"Compass Group." Compass Group PLC. 2004. April 2005

"Culinaire International." Culinaire International. 1999. April 2005

"HDS Services." HDS Services. 2004. April 2005

Prison Industrial Complex:

"ALEC: American Legislative Exchange Council." ALEC. 2005. 11 April 2005

"Asylum Seeker." Free Search. 2004. March 2005

"The Corrections Industry." Corrections Corporation of America. February 2005>

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is a company that designs, builds, and manages private prisons in the United States. This particular website attempts to disprove "myths" about private prisons.

Goldberg, Eve and Linda Evans. "The Prison Industrial Complex and the Global Economy." JusticeNet Prison Issues Desk. 2004. Prison Activist Resource Center. January 2005

This website includes information about prisons and big business, the new world order, prison labor, the war on drugs, and suggestions of what can be done.

"Not With Our Money." Not With Our Money. 2004. February 2005.

This website provides networking space for activists, students, community members, etc who are working to end the use of prisons for profit.


"Corporate Responsibility Report." Sodexho Alliance. 2004. March 2005.

"Global Sullivan Principles." Leon H. Sullivan Foundation. 2005. March 2005

King, Paul. "10 Sodexho Marriott Vets File Suit Charging Race Bias in Promotions." Nation's Restaurant News. 2001. Find Articles

"Is Sodexho Still Trying To Profit From Prisons?" Not With Our Money. 2002. Not With Our Money. 15 March 2005

This section from the 'Not With Our Money!' campaign addresses Sodexho's connections with private prisons. The copyright for this section is 2002, which appears to be when it was last updated.

"Remote Site Services." Universal Sodexho. 2002. March 2005

"Sodexho: A Corporate Profile." Corporate Watch. February 2004. Corporate Watch UK. 28 March, 2005

Corporate Watch is a UK-based organization that does evaluations of large corporations. The section on Sodexho includes information about their corporate structure and ownership, the projects they are involved with, who/what they influence and who/what they lobby, as well as their "corporate crimes."

"The Sodexho Corporation." Colorado College Fair Labor. 2003. March 2005

"Sodexho Homepage." Sodexho Alliance. 1999. March 2005

This is Sodexho's (the parent company based in France) Homepage.

"Sodexho USA." Sodexho, Inc. December 2003. March 2005

This is Sodexho USA's homepage.

"Stop Hunger Where it Starts." Sodexho Foundation. 1999. Sodexho USA. March 2005

"Windfalls of War." The Center for Public Integrity. 2005. March 2005