On Feb. 4 at noon, French multinational catering management company Sodexo gave a presentation at Scripps College in a bid to renew its contract with Scripps to manage the college’s sole dining hall, Malott Commons. The presentation, which took place at Scripps’s Balch Auditorium, was met with a room full of protesting students.
The auditorium was almost completely full, with nearly every student in attendance bearing a sign reading “DROP SODEXO.”
The protest was organized by the Drop Sodexo movement, which has campaigned for years to pressure the Scripps College administration to end its contract with Sodexo and change to another catering service provider over Sodexo’s involvement in for-profit prisons. The movement has been present at the Claremont colleges since 2017. As previously reported by the Independent, Drop Sodexo called for students to “DEMAND that Scripps does not renew the contract.” Outside Balch auditorium, many students were seen eating at Malott, despite Drop Sodexo’s previous attempts to boycott the dining hall.
Sodexo’s contract with Scripps ends this year and Scripps will choose a catering services provider in March. Scripps sent out 10 invitations, resulting in five proposals from catering service providers and will choose three finalists. Scripps is looking at six criteria:
20% company culture model: business plan, social justice initiatives, etc.
20% nutrition philosophy: sourcing foods, menus, and options for those with allergies, etc.
20% leadership: corporate direction and how they can scale to serve Scripps
15% communications strategy: customer service and responsiveness to feedback
15% financial: capital investment and financial model
During the presentation—which was followed by a question and answer session—various members of the Sodexo executive and management team pitched the perks of their company, with a heavy emphasis on “community,” “diversity,” and “inclusivity” of Sodexo’s catering solutions at Malott. One proposal included a “community kitchen” on the second floor of Malott.
The first presenter from Sodexo, a vice president, tried to address the concerns about Sodexo’s involvement in private prisons, emphasizing rehabilitation.
Sodexo representatives, including the general manager of Malott, also pitched Sodexo’s expertise in merging food with “community”; his presentation was followed by applause from Malott dining hall workers, but almost none from students.
During the question and answer session, students questioned Sodexo’s treatment of prisoners and the United States military. Sodexo repeated its emphasis on rehabilitation. During one answer, the student interrupted, saying “it doesn’t take away from the fact Sodexo runs prisons.”
One student questioned Sodexo’s partnership with the “US military, [which is] infamous for its human rights violations and carbon footprint.” Sodexo serves the United States Marines Corps. “We are proud to serve these people who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the United States,” replied the Sodexo representative.
Another student questioned Sodexo’s practice of keeping mothers and their children together in its prison facilities. A Sodexo representative told the students that they were “stringing together” incidents.The student responded by stating “I was asking about people who don’t get to leave your prisons, but that’s okay.”
Students also questioned Sodexo’s anti-union practices, which a Sodexo representative denied. Other topics include Sodexo’s supposed systemic mistreatment of transgender inmates, which Sodexo also denied.
One of the final questions went to a dining hall worker, who said that “Sodexo treats me well…but I don’t know anything about prisons or anything” and praised Sodexo’s treatment of his fellow dining hall workers, adding that they hoped “students would appreciate our hard work…we break our backs and go back late.”
Another dining hall worker said she worked for Scripps for 23 and Sodexo for 18 years, stating that it is a “pleasure to work for this company…we are the best dining hall according to students [at the Claremont Colleges].”
This story is developing and will be updated.