Bowing To Pressure, Campus Caterer Promises Sale Of Prison Stock
Students express skepticism (noting recent purchase of British and Australian private prisons) and say campaign against Sodexho-Marriott will continue
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, October 10, 2000
Contact: Kevin Pranis or Kirti
Srivastava, (646) 486-6715,
(917) 860-4635, or firstname.lastname@example.org
New York, NY. Bowing to pressure from angry U.S. and Canadian students, Paris-based Sodexho Alliance has announced plans to sell its 8% stake in the world's largest for-profit private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (NYSE: CXW), as soon as CCA completes a corporate restructuring. (The statement, by SA Chairman Pierre Bellon, is available at www.sodexho.com/sodexhoAnglais/informer/display/dcs/l3.htm.)
But in a statement released today, Not With Our Money!, a coalition of student activists opposed to prison profiteering, expressed skepticism about the company's pledge and called on Sodexho to divest itself of all private prison holdings-including U.K. Detention Services and Corrections Corporation of Australia, private prison companies acquired by Sodexho Alliance in a recent deal with CCA-by April 1, 2001.
Since last February, SA's North American subsidiary, Sodexho-Marriott Services (NYSE: SDH), has been the target of protests on 50 of the 500 colleges and universities where the company operates dining halls and food courts. At four campuses-State University of NY at Albany, Evergreen State College (WA), Goucher College (MD) and James Madison University (VA)-the protests have cost the company lucrative dining service contracts.
While student concerns have focused on human rights abuses in private prisons, including brutality, denial of medical care and retention of prisoners beyond the time required by law, students have also raised concerns about Sodexho-Marriott's treatment of workers and students. The company was recently forced into an historic settlement with the National Labor Relations Board for violating workers' rights to free speech, and students complain that the company uses exclusivity clauses in its contracts to shut down student-run bake sales and charge campus groups as much as $26 for a pitcher of water.
Arizona State University senior Matt May says he's glad the campaign is making headway, but afraid Bellon's announcement is little more than a public relations ploy. "I smell a rat, and not just the kind that leave droppings in their cafeterias," says May, referring to health code violations that plagued SMS' Albany dining halls. "The company's representatives misled us from Day 1. First, they told us Sodexho-Marriott wasn't part of Sodexho Alliance, despite the fact that financial analysts and even Bellon say otherwise. Then they told us Sodexho-Marriott had no direct connection to CCA even though CCA's founder "Doc" Crants was on their board. Finally, they told us last spring that Pacific Life Insurance was about to buy Sodexho out. It's difficult to believe them now, especially when they leave themselves such a big loophole."
Pari Zutshi, a junior at Hampshire College (MA), also points to the fact that Sodexho has recently increased its global private prison investments by taking over 100% ownership of Corrections Corporation of Australia and U.K. Detention Services. "If you follow the international press, you know that Sodexho has been criticized for shortchanging asylum seekers in Britain through their voucher system and exploiting child labor at the Olympic Stadium in Australia. If that's how they treat refugees and kids, imagine what those prisons must be like."
Until Sodexho divests, Zutshi and May say they and their fellow students will keep fighting to kick the company off campus and organizing for an International Day of Action scheduled for April 4, 2001-just three days after the divestment deadline.
RESPONSE TO SODEXHO ALLIANCE CHAIRMAN PIERRE BELLON FROM NOT WITH OUR MONEY!
Dear Chairman Bellon,
On March 13 of this year, representatives of Not With Our Money!-a coalition of students opposed to prison profiteering-met with Sodexho Alliance executive Jean-Pierre Cuny to discuss Sodexho's investments in the for-profit private prison industry. At that meeting, we explained to Mr. Cuny that Sodexho would have to choose between doing business with students, who generate more than $1 billion in annual revenues for your subsidiary, Sodexho Marriott Services, and doing business with private prison companies, whose greed and incompetence threatens public safety and corrupts justice. Mr. Cuny made it clear to us that your company had no intention of divesting from private prisons.
Since that time, students have made their feelings on the issue quite clear by launching anti-Sodexho campaigns on 50 of the 500 U.S. and Canadian campuses that contract with Sodexho Marriott Services. These campaigns have led to the loss of Sodexho Marriott contracts at the State University of New York at Albany, Evergreen State College (WA), Goucher College and James Madison University. They have also led to publicity in a wide range of national print publications, including The Observer (London), The Nation, Mother Jones, The Village Voice, Dissent and a syndicated column by the L.A. Times' Arianna Huffington, not to mention dozens of stories in local and campus papers.
Your recent announcement of Sodexho Alliance's intention to divest itself of stock in Corrections Corporation of America suggests that the company has reconsidered its position in light of recent events. Unfortunately, a closer look reveals a very different picture:
First, your statement contains no fixed timetable for divestment. You promise to divest "once the contemplated recovery plans have been carried out," without specifying what those recovery plans are and whether they will take a month or ten years to carry out. This is the equivalent of Nike saying that it will pay workers a living wage "some day," and given CCA's poor management history, we'll all be in for a long wait.
Second, your excuse for not divesting immediately is that, "with CCA shares at historically low price levels, and the company in the midst of a turnaround effort under new management, now is not the right time to sell that stake." This sounds suspiciously like, "Let us get a company infamous for perpetuating human rights abuses back on its feet so we can make some more money off it, and then we'll divest." You can't seriously believe that students will sit by while you try to revive a company that thrives on human bondage.
Third, you try to give the impression that Sodexho Alliance is in the process of divesting from the private prison industry, conveniently ignoring the fact that your company recently increased its holdings by acquiring 100% ownership of two additional private prison companies-U.K. Detention Services and Corrections Corporation of Australia. These acquisitions suggest that, far from cutting its ties to the for-profit prison industry, Sodexho Alliance is trying to position itself as a global private prison operator. Do you really believe that North American students will ignore human rights violations perpetuated by your British and Australian private prison companies just because you sell off your stock in Corrections Corporation of America?
It's time for Sodexho Alliance to face the facts. Prison privatization is not only morally wrong but has also proven to be a disaster in every respect. The studies you site on your website that support prison privatization are old and have been thoroughly discredited. Recent research by criminologists like Judy Greene and James Austin show, respectively, that private prisons provide fewer and lower quality programs, and have much higher rates of violence (50%-80%), while studies by the General Accounting Office and Abt Associates show little or no cost savings.
It's also time for Sodexho Alliance to face its responsibilities. Sodexho's claim that it had no role in the management of Corrections Corporation of America is patently false. In fact, it had a significant role in managing the company, through its controlling interest as well as its guaranteed seat on the board of directors, and Sodexho therefore bears responsibility for the gross mismanagement of the company and its facilities.
Contrary to the claims of your employees, who claim that we are "less interested in the facts and more interested in [our] stated objective in targeting our company to generate publicity for their cause," we have always been very careful with our facts and clear about our demands: the campaign will end as soon as Sodexho Alliance divests itself of all holdings in the for-profit private prison industry.
Mr. Bellon, you may not care about Anthony Bowman, who suffered from sickle-cell anemia and died because the doctor for CCA's South Central prison (TN)-who received nearly $100,000 as a bonus for keeping down medical costs-refused to send him to the hospital. Mr. Bowman's crime: writing a bad check. And you may not care about William P., a 90-pound 15 year-old who arrived in state psychiatric ward covered with bruises and threatening to injure himself after a 6 month stay in CCA's Columbia Training Center (SC), during which the boy was frequently hog-tied, maced and locked in a cell with a 6-foot-4, 225-pound inmate who abused him. William's crime: attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. But we care, and if you want to continue doing business with students, you should care too.
We urge you to commit immediately to full divestment from the private prison industry before April 1, 2001.
It's always the right time to do the right thing.
Corey Finger, State University of New York at Binghamton
Dan Goossen, University of Vermont at Burlington
Brian Gralnick, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy/George Washington University
Conor Irons, University of Chicago
Gregg Kaysen, University of California at Santa Cruz
Gwen Kemper, Northwestern University
Liv Leader, Earlham College
Matt May, Arizona State University
Kevin Pranis, Grassroots Leadership
Kate Rhee, Prison Moratorium Project
Chris Roose, Guilford College
Wil Sands &Pari Zutshi, Hampshire College
Kirti Srivastava, U.S. Student Association/UC Santa Cruz
HERE'S WHAT STUDENTS ARE SAYING ABOUT SODEXHO'S RECENT STATEMENTS REGARDING THE COMPANY'S PRIVATE PRISON INVESTMENTS:
"While I appreciate a reaffirmation of my most sincere belief that student activism really does change the world, I'm not going to be satisfied until a 100% divestment is complete. We're doing a great job, but we're not done quite yet."
- Rachel Antonuccio, Cornell College (IA)
"On behalf of the activists and concerned students at UC Santa Cruz, we are excited to see that our diligant fight against private prisons is making progress. However, we are outraged at Sodexho Alliance's latest attempt to trick us into thinking that they are soon divesting from CCA. Until Sodexho Alliance provides a clearly layed-out timetable that maps their 100% divestment, we will continue fighting to remove Sodexho Alliance from wherever it seeks business."
- Gregg Kaysen, University of California at Santa Cruz
"Northwestern students are excited by this apparent change in Sodexho's stance, but urge the company to present us with a divestment timeline without which we will not cease in our efforts to force immediate change in the company's policy. We are committed to Sodexho's divestment in private prisons and will continue to work in alliance with other Chicago-area schools until Sodexho has acted in response to our demands: either give in or get out."
- Gwen Kemper, Northwestern University
"While we are encouraged by Sodexho's recognition of the importance of the private prison industry problem, we remain skeptical of the commitment put forth by Sodexho Alliance and its subsidiary Sodexho Marriott Services. Until Sodexho Alliance fufills their promise of complete divestment from CCA, students at hampshire college remain committed to forcing that move."
- Wil Sands and Pari Zutshi for Hampshire College (MA)
"Although this is a comforting statement, any comfort we felt was dispelled when we saw later in the statement that Sodexho Mariott/Alliance does not think now is the right time to divest, that the company has given the public no timetable of divestment, that the company plans to "fix" the CCA before divesting, and that far from gradually ceasing to associate from the CCA, the Alliance has acquired a 100% investment in a CCA project in Australia... Sodexho Alliance must divest itself completely from the for-profit private prison industry-including, but not limited to, the company's shares of Corrections Corporation of America,Corrections Corporation of Australia and U.K. Detention Services-by April 1, 2001."
- Lydia Patton for Criminal Injustice, McGill University (QC)