By Kevin Pranis of the Prison Moratorium Project.
(Sodexho Marriott has provided a helpful "FAQ about Prison Moratorium Project" page on its website, so we thought we'd reciprocate with our own FAQ on SMS's STOP Hunger program, which keeps showing up wherever the company is receiving criticism.)
Q: Sodexho Marriott CEO Michel Landel says that the company is "deeply committed to making a significant impact in ending hunger." Do they make a significant impact?
A: It depends what you consider significant. Since Sodexho Marriott is the largest food service provider in North America, it would be nice to see them meet 2-3% of the need, but since we know they're mostly in it for the money, we'd settle for 1%. According to the SMS' estimates, 12.2 million children go without nutritious lunches during the summer. If we assume that the summer is about 90 days, then the total need is 1.098 billion meals. Sodexho Marriott claims to provide either 80,000 or 120,000 meals, which amounts to just about one hundredth of one percent of the need. You be the judge.
Q: I spend about 5% of my annual income on donations to charities. How much does Sodexho Marriott spend?
A: We don't have exact figures, so we'll be generous and assume that it costs between $300,000 and $500,000 to provide about 100,000 meals (the actual figure is probably considerably lower, since unlike other hunger programs, the surplus food and delivery mechanism are already in place, not to mention the fact that Sodexho employees fund a large part of the program. By comparison, Sodexho Marriott's annual revenues are just over $4 billion-which means that the company is spending one hundredth of one percent of its revenues to feed hungry children. Sodexho Alliance just spent fifteen times that amount (over $6 million) to take over control of private prison companies in Great Britain and Australia. In layman's terms, it's like a guy who earns $100,000 bragging that he gave $10 to charity last year.
Q: Does Sodexho Marriott spend more money publicizing its STOP Hunger program than it spends actually feeding people?
A: Unfortunately, we don't have enough information to answer that question. But we do know that Sodexho-Marriott has spent quite a bit of money buying ads in student newspapers that have run stories critical of the company.
Q: Wouldn't Sodexho Marriott make more of an impact on hunger if it paid its employees a living wage?
A: Good point. Given the SMS wage scale, it would be no surprise if the children of SMS workers were among the 12 million who depend on hunger programs. For instance, the Albany Student Press reported in February that "[SMS workers] are paid $6-7 an hour, and most of them work 12 hour shifts. They receive no sick or personal time. Their benefits have nearly quadrupled in cost, from $50 a month to $50 a week. Furthermore, Sodexho-Marriott workers were promised raises every six months, pending evaluation. As of now, there have been no such evaluations, and they have been told evaluations may not be conducted until January 2001 -- 18 months after the food service took over." Those kind of wages won't get you over the poverty line, especially since most food service workers are laid off during the summer months.
Q: I've heard that by investing in for-profit prisons, Sodexho may actually be contributing to the hunger problem. Is this true?
A: Indirectly, yes. First, private operators place prisoners offer very few programs and often ship prisoners far away from their families (sometimes thousands of miles). Social isolation and the lack of meaningful educational programs practically ensure that prisoners will be unable to financially support their families when they leave. Second, private operators fuel prison expansion by directly lobbying politicians for contracts and building new prisons "on speculation". Prison expansion forces politicians to siphon millions of dollars from social programs, including programs designed to alleviate hunger.
Q: Do other food service providers have charitable programs?
A: All of the major food service companies have charitable programs. It's a regular part of doing business.