Students Say 'Not with Our Money' to CDS
Obies claim CDS carrier involved with prison for profit businessby Alana Joblin (4/21/00)
Students nationwide began protesting Sodexho Marriott Service (SMS) earlier this month, alleging that the company has investments in private prisons. SMS provides dining services for numerous colleges, including Oberlin.
Oberlin students involved in the protest have joined together in a coalition called "Not With Our Money, People Before Profits at Campus Dining Service" (CDS). This campus-based campaign is part of a national one, contained under the larger "Not With Our Money" campaign, part of the national Prison Moratorium Project. They claim that Sodexho Marriott's parent company, Sodexho Alliance (SA), invests in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a profit seeking prison company.
SMS was created in 1998 with the merger of Marriott International and the North American operations of Paris-based Sodexho Alliance. SMS has different shareholders which own about 52 percent of the company, while SA controls the remaining 48 percent. Senior Vice President of SA, Jean-Pierre Cuny, serves as a representative on the board of directors for Prison Realty Trust which is part of CCA. Additionally, Doctor R. Crants, who is co-founder and CEO of CCA, sits on the board of SMS. SA also holds 8.8 stock in Prison Realty Trust.
However, the situation proves to be a complicated one. SMS claims that while SA owns 48 percent of Sodexho Marriott, it is a separate company from Sodexho Alliance, and therefore holds no direct linkage to CCA, consequently denying ties to the prisons.
On a national level, the "Not With Our Money" campaign is trying to force the Sodexho Alliance to make a choice - either divest from the CCA, or lose money from colleges by acquiring a bad reputation, leading to the boycott of SMS as their dining service.
Junior protestor Ty Moore talked about Oberlin's response to the situation, saying the SMS private prison linkage was brought to the College's attention about a month and a half ago. He describes their response as "generally sympathetic." The College was surprised to learn of this connection, and open to considering the demands of the students. However, Moore still responded with some skepticism. He explained that the College was reluctant to terminate the SMS contract early, as it doesn't come up for another two years.
"My sense is that there's a strategy that they stall in the hopes we'll go away," Moore said. "What we're asking for is a statement issued by the College with a clear promise to have Sodexho Marriott out by a specific and not too distant date (by next Fall, for example) if SA does not divest from CCA."
Junior Sanaya Kaufman, also involved in the campaign, said "It is crucial that students are aware of where their money is going." She noted the difficulty of getting off board and the limits placed on the number of students who can join co-ops. "If we are full-time students, younger than 23, and can't get into a co-op, we have no choice but to financially support Marriott."
Dean of Students Peter Goldsmith expressed concern over the possibility of SMS being linked with organizations that run for-profit prisons. He said, "The evidence that I've seen so far is tenuous, but it's certainly quite possible that a clear link might be established." Goldsmith stated that the College is currently investigating this matter further. If it turns out that the link is substantive, Goldsmith said, "I think it would be legitimate for the College and community to feel uneasiness. Personally, speaking only as an individual, I would certainly be uneasy about our being in business with a company that is linked to activity of that kind."
In spite of any resolve that may come of a possible SA divestment from CCA or College response to SMS, it doesn't appear that the "Not With Our Money" coalition will be divesting from their campaign. Moore explained that the prison linkage is only one of several issues that he and the campaign see as problematic with SMS. They are also concerned with several aspects of Labor Rights as well as the quality and price of the food provided by SMS.
Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
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