OPINION: Drop Sodexo has always thought about the workers, you just haven’t noticed

If you go to one of the 5Cs and haven’t been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard something about Drop Sodexo — I know I’ve heard plenty. I’ve also heard plenty of concerns about how dropping Sodexo will affect the workers of Malott Dining Commons. 

In fact, a whole article of concerns ran in TSL on Feb. 14 in an op-ed by Avika Jindel PO ’23 titled “Leaving Sodexo: What about the workers?” In response to Jindel’s article and campus-wide Sodexo confusion, I’m here to tell you that these concerns, while they come from a good place, are unfounded. 

For those who may not be informed: Sodexo — the dining service provider currently in contract with Scripps College — owns, operates and makes buckets of money off of around eighty for-profit prisons in Europe and Australia. You won’t easily find that information online, by the way. I got the number of prisons Sodexo owns directly from the mouth of their senior vice president of brand and communications, Jennifer Williamson, who mentioned it in response to a student question at Sodexo’s presentation Feb. 4.

The problems with Sodexo don’t end there, as if profiting off of prison labor wasn’t bad enough. Sodexo, the world’s 19th largest employer, has a long history of anti-labor and anti-union practices, from paying their workers poverty wages in countries from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic, to spying on, threatening and firing workers for pro-union activity. This short list of gross injustices doesn’t even scratch the surface, so if you need more reasons to hate them, just Google any phrase along the lines of “Sodexo controversy” and keep on scrolling.

Drop Sodexo is a campaign to end Scripps’ contract with Sodexo and, in so doing, stop supporting a company that exploits the labor of human beings — both in and out of cages — for their own monetary gain.

Now that we’re all on the same page, here’s a lesser-known fact about Drop Sodexo: It’s old. Generations of student organizers have fought behind the scenes for years in the Drop Sodexo campaign. Don’t get me wrong, the action at Sodexo’s presentation was awesome, but fifty students taping “Drop Sodexo” signs to our shirts is nowhere close to all it takes to pressure an institution like Scripps into terminating a massive contract.

The vast majority of the work that Drop Sodexo has done has happened behind closed doors, which is likely the reason so many people on these campuses, including Jindel, assume that Drop Sodexo is a newer movement that has not yet considered workers’ voices. On the contrary, Drop Sodexo has taken communicating with workers very seriously from the beginning, and would not have chosen to proceed years ago had any workers been at risk of losing their jobs. 

As Jindel mentions herself, the vast majority of Malott employees work for Scripps, not Sodexo. You can count the number of Sodexo employees at Scripps on one hand. These employees are managers, not workers, so as a student of the 5Cs, it’s likely that you’ve never met any of them — with the possible exception of Garrick Hisamoto, the Malott manager to whom Jindel refers as the “nervous man” who spoke at the Sodexo presentation. 

If and when Scripps drops Sodexo, Hisamoto and his few fellow Sodexo employees will be transferred to one of Sodexo’s other institutions, while the Malott workers who make our smoothies (I love you, Marisol!) and assemble our fish tacos will all keep their jobs.

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All this is to say, the Drop Sodexo movement is both bigger and deeper than it appears on the surface. There’s certainly much more to it — many years more, in fact — than the final-push action at Sodexo’s presentation.

If you want to learn more about the campaign, please check out Drop Sodexo on Facebook, read the Scripps Voice article on Drop Sodexo or reach out to the campaign’s current leaders, Niyati Narang SC ’20 and Sophie Peters SC ’20.

Personally, I am glad that conversations about labor on these campuses are opening up. However, while Drop Sodexo has always been concerned with worker’s rights, they are not explicitly a labor movement. 

So for anyone who cares about the workers on these campuses — as everyone should — the simplest thing you can do is get to know them. Learn their names, talk to them about their days and thank them for all the hard work they do. 

And for those who really want to get involved in supporting labor on campus, try joining the Claremont Student Worker Alliance (shameless plug, I just joined and it’s awesome). 

At the end of Jindel’s article, she writes, “To turn a blind eye to the possible implications of [the decision to Drop Sodexo] is unnecessarily hurting the people who we set out to help.” 

Sure, it may seem that way on the surface, but to anyone who knows, it is clear that Drop Sodexo has kept their eyes and ears wide open when considering the futures of Malott’s workers. 

Well-meaning but uninformed concerns like Jindel’s distract from the successes of the student-organized Drop Sodexo movement. 

My message to 5C community members — including Jindel — who value the lives of others is this: Let’s not turn a blind eye to what Drop Sodexo is really fighting for. All this time, the students involved in the Drop Sodexo campaign have fought tirelessly for one goal: to end Scripps’ contract with the exploitative corporate beast that is Sodexo Quality of Life Services.

Personally, the more I’ve learned about both Sodexo itself and the movement against it, the more strongly I support Drop Sodexo and the more deeply I admire the fearless student-organizers who have always been in this fight to win. 

Let’s support our peers and predecessors by acknowledging the monumental work Drop Sodexo has done for what it is: a profound victory for student-organizing on these campuses.

Because when the final decision comes out in the next few weeks, you know my money’s on them.

Vivi Kraus SC ’22 is a guest writer who hates Sodexo and is gay.

Correction: An earlier version of this article included administrative assistant Beth Garvin’s name as an employee of Sodexo. She is an employee of Scripps College and her name has been removed from this article. TSL regrets this error.
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