By: Johnna Ossie, News Editor
In 2016, the University of Maine System gave its five-year dining services contract to French multinational corporation Sodexo. According to Buster Neel, interim chief business officer at USM, Sodexo was the best decision financially for the university.
General Manager Tadd Sloane oversees all of the Sodexo operations at USM and at UMaine Augusta. Sloane explained some of the corporation’s goals on campus, which have been to bring in more local foods and be involved in local community hunger initiatives.
At USM Sodexo has worked with the local Boys and Girls Club and the Husky Hunger Initiative. They have also promised to bring more Maine produce to campus dining. So far throughout the Maine campuses Sodexo has purchased over 17 percent of its produce locally. Sodexo employs 117 employees across the Portland, Gorham and Lewiston-Auburn campuses.
According to Sloane, the company is able to get food from several dozen Maine farms through the distributor Native Maine, including Lakeside Farm in Newport. The company also gets its dairy products from Oakhurst, located behind the Woodbury Campus Center.
Sodexo has business ties with Starbucks and suggested bringing the coffee shop to Glickman Library. Neel says Starbucks was chosen as a result of student, staff and faculty interest, but it was Sodexo who originally proposed bringing a Starbucks to campus. Neel also said that right now the coffee stand in Glickman is not technically a Starbucks, but simply Sodexo serving Starbucks coffee.
Sloane believes that product fatigue was the reason for not choosing Coffee by Design for the library.
“Currently, we have eight or nine locations serving Coffee by Design…we hear that students are looking for some variety,” he said. He confirmed that Sodexo offered Starbucks as a potential business to come to campus.
Though Sodexo at USM is working to maintain community involvement, the business is not without its share of corporate controversy. In 2005, the company paid out 80 million dollars in a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by thousands of the company’s Black employees. The employees claimed that they did not receive promotions because of racial discrimination and that a segregated work environment was being fostered.
In 2003, the company was forced to suspend distribution of all frozen beef products due to horse DNA being discovered in various meats.
According to a 2016 article from Medium, until 2001, Sodexo owned a large amount of stock in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a corporation that owns over half of all private prisons in the United States. After pressure from students at Pomona College, the company dropped its CCA shares but continues to manage over 100 private prisons abroad. These are located in countries including Belgium, Chile, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. The company also manages prisons and immigrant detention centers throughout the United Kingdom.
One of the company’s prisons is HMP Northumberland, Britain’s seventh largest jail. The prison was recently the target of BBC undercover journalism which reported that within the prison, drug sales, security breaches and weaponry were commonplace, and that there was a general sense of “chaos.”
At Scripps College in Southern California, students have started a campaign, “Drop Sodexo,” demanding their school drop the caterer. Leah Shorb, a member of the group and first-year student at Scripps, provided a statement from the Drop Sodexo campaign.
“Students have been actively organizing…to pressure the Scripps administration to terminate the facilities and dining services contracts with the corporation. Sodexo is one of the largest corporations in the world that services institutions such as prisons, schools and universities, assisted-living facilities, hospitals, government agencies, military bases, and others,” the group wrote. “It is infamous for its host of civil rights abuses, exploitative labor policies, neoliberalism, anti-unionism, substandard food quality, violations of food safety, environmental destruction, racial discrimination, major class-action lawsuits, ownership of over 100 private prisons abroad, and much more.”
The group has organized a boycott and continues to work to get Sodexo dropped as the school’s food provider.
“Our focus is…how do we serve our students best, that’s the whole key and clearly Sodexo presented the best proposal,” said Neel. When asked for USM’s stance on Sodexo’s controversies, Neel said the university does not have a position.