Students at Ten Colleges Launch Boycott of Sodexho Marriott Services
ACTIVISTS CRITICIZE COMPANY'S TIES TO PRIVATE PRISON INDUSTRY
Several corporations and their lobbyists now rely on a large prison population for their profits. In the near future you can expect to see more legitimate activities criminalized than decriminalized as the USA imprisons more and more citizens -- not for legitimate law enforcement reasons, but in response to private corporate lobbyists.
APRIL 4 -- Armed with stickers that read "Sodexho = Prison Profit", students at ten colleges and universities launched a nationwide boycott of Sodexho-Marriott Services (NYSE: SDH), charging that the company's close ties to the scandal-ridden Corrections Corporation of America make it an unfit provider of campus dining services.
Sodexho-Marriott's parent company, Paris-based Sodexho Alliance, is the leading investor in the rapidly growing for-profit private prison industry, with a 17% share in Corrections Corporation of America and a 9% share in CCA's publicly held sister company, Prison Realty Trust (NYSE: PZN). Sodexho Alliance owns 48% of Sodexho-Marriott, and has appointed CCA founder "Doc" Crantz to sit on the Sodexho-Marriott board of directors.
"For years, we've watched the government take money from public universities to put record numbers of non-violent youth behind bars," says State University of New York at Binghamton activist Cory Finger. "Now we find out that Sodexho is trying to profit off their misery." Finger and his fellow students have convinced campus organizations, including some fraternities, to observe a one-day boycott of the campus food services.
Private prisons make up the fastest growing segment of the U.S. prison and jail population, which reached two million in February according to a report by Justice Policy Institute. Reports of widespread abuse in facilities run by Corrections Corporation of America and Wackenhut Corrections, including guard brutality, denial of medical care and retention of prisoners beyond the time required by law, have led to calls for a ban on private prisons.
The prison controversy comes at a difficult time for Sodexho-Marriott, which was recently forced by the National Labor Relations Board to rescind illegal work rules in the company's employee handbook. On campuses like SUNY Albany, where activists staged a sit-in on Thursday, labor and prison activists have made common cause, making fair treatment of workers and divestment from private prisons demands of the campaign.
According to organizers, today's activities will include the kick-off of a student referendum to "Dump Sodexho" (Oberlin College), guerrilla theater demonstrations (American University and Earlham College), and potlucks for students who want to observe the boycott (Hampshire College and SUNY Binghamton). Other campuses participating in actions today include SUNY Albany, Skidmore College, UMD College Park, James Madison University, and St. Louis University, where the student government has passed a resolution endorsing the boycott.
In the past week, Sodexho-Marriott representatives have tried to counter the campaign by claiming that Sodexho Alliance is already moving to meet student demands for divestment, but campaign organizer Kevin Pranis calls this "wishful thinking." "Recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission suggest that Sodexho will continue to invest in Prison Realty Trust, and we get the same impression from our meeting with Sodexho executive Jean-Pierre Cuny (who sits on the board of PRT)." Pranis concludes, "I think we're in for a long fight."
The launch of the boycott coincides with an April 4th National Student-Labor Day of Action sponsored by Jobs With Justice, the United States Student Association, United Students Against Sweatshops and the National Student Labor Alliance. April 4th was chosen because it is the anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, who was shot while in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers.
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