Student activists turned out Tuesday to protest a presentation by Sodexo, Scripps College’s controversial food service provider, which is hoping to renew its contract with the school. A group of Malott Dining Commons staffers, including some longtime employees, also showed up to defend the company.
Approximately 50 protestors, who wore “DROP SODEXO” signs, several uniformed dining hall staff and other students filled Balch Auditorium during Sodexo’s presentation to the college community.
The student-organized Drop Sodexo campaign has advocated for Scripps to end its contract with the company for several years because the company operates private prisons in Europe and Australia, has been accused of mistreating workers and has been accused of providing substandard food, among other reasons, according to the Drop Sodexo website.
“How can you vie to be a member of our community, Sodexo, when you as a company do not commit to our community values and commit the very injustices we were taught to fight?”
—Maddie Moore SC ’22
Sodexo has provided food services for the college since 2000, according to Vice President for Business Affairs Dean Calvo. The college’s current contract ends in June, according to an email sent by Calvo to Scripps students in December.
The college sent a request for proposal to ten prospective vendors in August, and five submitted proposals, according to Calvo.
Sodexo was the last of three finalist vendors to deliver a presentation on its food services plans for the college. Bon Appétit, which provides food services for Claremont McKenna College and Pitzer College, presented Jan. 29, and SAGE Dining Services presented Monday.
Sodexo representatives spoke about the company’s humanitarian efforts as part of its Stop Hunger Foundation and its partnerships with organizations like the American Culinary Foundation and the Humane Society, as well as the planned launch of a program to reduce food waste called WasteWatch.
The pitch also included a proposal for opening an outpost of fast-casual chain Freshii on campus, which would provide all-day dining.
The college is evaluating the proposals based on “cost, food quality and alignment on Scripps values, among others,” and requires presenters to complete an informational form which asks about “social responsibility, involvement with the prison industry, ownership demographics, employment practices and compliance with the Federal disallowed parties standards,” among other information, Calvo said via email.
Several protestors addressed the panel, which included general manager Garrick Hisamoto, a Sodexo district manager, a Sodexo senior vice president, a Sodexo sustainability officer, a Sodexo executive chef and Jennifer Williamson, Sodexo’s senior vice president of brand and communications, who responded to student questions during the Q&A session that followed the presentation.
Maddie Moore SC ’22 said that “the operations of prisons is not just or positive,” and cited examples of inhumane treatment in Sodexo-run prisons that have captured international media attention, including routine strip searches, the death of a newborn baby and the death of inmate Annabella Landsberg.
“How can you vie to be a member of our community, Sodexo, when you as a company do not commit to our community values and commit the very injustices we were taught to fight?” Moore asked.
Williamson stressed that Sodexo provides services in countries with democratically elected governments, “and where the focus is on rehabilitation and re-entry into the community.”
“The types of instances that you have described are very rare,” Williamson said. “The fact that a baby died in prison, that a mother lost her child, deeply saddened everybody in the justice community.”
“It is not something we take lightly, and it is something that we are fully complying with, ensuring it never happens again,” Williamson added.
“We’re trying our hardest to do stuff for the students. I just hope they appreciate that because we’re really breaking our backs.”
Two dining hall workers came forward in support of Sodexo and Hisamoto.
“I don’t know about the prisons … but I know in California, they’re doing a good job here. Garrick especially, when he came on board, food’s different, everything’s different about it,” said a Malott employee that TSL was unable to identify. “We’re trying our hardest to do stuff for the students. I just hope they appreciate that because we’re really breaking our backs.”
“We wake up at four in the morning sometimes and we don’t go home until late at night,” he continued. “We’re here most of the time, [more] than we are at home. So I just wanted to give you guys a big round of applause.”
Malott staff member Alma Ruiz, a salad pantry worker who said she has worked for the college for 23 years, and for Sodexo for “18 or 19,” also approached the microphone at the end of the Q&A session.
“[It is] a pleasure to work for this company,” Ruiz said.
Several more of the workers in the audience told TSL after the event they had come to support Sodexo.
Sophie Peters SC ’20, one of the organizers of the protest, told TSL that Drop Sodexo “has always made sure to put workers first.”
“We love the workers at Malott, and it’s always been at the forefront of our minds that we want the workers to stay, even though we want Sodexo to go,” Peters said. “Which is entirely possible because most of the workers, except for high management positions, are employed by Scripps and not Sodexo.”
Dining hall employees are employed by the college and are not at risk of losing their jobs, Calvo confirmed.
The administration “welcomes information sharing about corporations’ practices, histories and structures,” Calvo said via email. He added that student concerns “will be taken into consideration in the final phase of the selection process.”
Maria Heeter SC ’22 is an economics major from Dover, New Hampshire. She previously served as TSL’s fall 2020 editor-in-chief.