December 21, 2011
Vol: 18 No: 49

News

UW to part ways with Sodexo next summer

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

Student protests help prompt decision to find new concession provider

University of Washington students rally before storming the president’s office last May to protest the university’s contract with giant concession services provider Sodexo. UW will not renew the contract next summer, in part because of student actions.

Photo by Lucas Anderson

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The University of Washington’s 25-year relationship with Sodexo will end in July.

The athletics department announced on Wed., Dec. 14, that beginning in July, Philadelphia-based ARAMARK will provide concession services for the University of Washington’s home games at a number of athletic venues.

ARAMARK employs 255,000 people across 22 countries.

Students with the UW Kick Out Sodexo Coalition fought the university for more than a year to sever ties with the France-based company.

Students opposed Sodexo’s alleged practices of wage theft, poverty wages and intimidation. Among other actions, they brought Carina Mieses from the Dominican Republic to the University of Washington to speak to students about Sodexo. Sodexo had fired Mieses from her position after she tried to organize employees.

According to a report from TransAfrica Forum, a human rights group, Sodexo had committed several human rights violations around the world. The company required employees take pregnancy tests as a condition of employment. In the Dominican Republic, Guinea, Morocco and the United States, workers felt their employment would be at risk if they raised safety concerns to management. And in the United States some employees earned so little they qualified for federal anti-poverty programs.

Such reports prompted the United Students Against Sweatshops to organize protests against Sodexo at campuses across the country.

The UW branch of USAS staged sit-ins this past spring at the campus. Police arrested 27 students at the university when they held a sit-in at the university president’s office.

Over the last year, Pomona College, Regis University, Northeastern University and Western Washington University also ended their relationships with Sodexo.

UW spokesman Norm Arkans said the Dec. 14 announcement does not mean the university severed its contract with Sodexo. The company will continue to operate at athletic functions until July.

But he said student action did change the criteria used to award the next contract. The athletic department looked at corporate responsibility along with financials, business proposals and experience.

“It was one among a series of criteria,” Arkans said. “It was not the deciding factor. This was a business decision that the athletic department made.”

Arkans said a company’s financials mattered most. Concessions generated $679,000 in revenue for the university in the 2010-11 school year.

“This is a proposal where the athletic department is seeking financial advantage,” he said. “In this case, which concessionaire is going to yield the most revenue?”

ARAMARK comes with awards for its ethical business practices. The Ethisphere Institute recognized it as one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies,” and Fortune Magazine called it one of the “World’s Most Admired Companies.”

The university and ARAMARK still need to finalize a contract. No monetary figure has been attached to the agreement yet.

Arkans said officially ARAMARK is the “apparent successful bidder” until the contract is finalized.

The company will have a five-year contract with an option to renew another five years. Sodexo operated under a similar contract for $150 million.

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