A better Tulane, a better New Orleans
Saturday January 19th 2019

A New Semester: TransAfrica Forum issues report, U. Washington President Takes Action

It’s a new semester, and we have some exciting new updates for the campaign!

TransAfrica Forum is a non-profit global justice organization which was a major player in the anti-Apartheid movement of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. On January 14th, they released a report detailing Sodexo’s abuses of human rights around the globe, focusing on sites in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, the Republic of Guinea, Morocco and the United States, and specifically on New Orleans.

You can read the full report here. Some of Sodexo’s actions worldwide are truly shocking and infuriating: women in Colombia reported being required to take pregnancy tests as a condition of continued employment; in Guinea, some Sodexo cafeterias are racially segregated, and workers make as little as $0.38 cents per hour.

TransAfrica Forum’s report builds on an earlier report by Human Rights Watch that surveyed Sodexo along with other multinational corporations. It points out the way that Sodexo’s poverty wages create a burden on the American taxpayer:

The New York Times notes that food stamp use
is at a record high with more than 36 million people relying on the program for
basic necessities. The program now feeds one in eight Americans and one out of
every four children.(58) To qualify, a family’s net income has to be less than 130
percent of the poverty line (though families with significant assets or savings
beyond their annual income may not qualify.(59) (For a family of four, that comes
to $28,655/€21,280.) For a Sodexo worker who makes $7.50(€5.57) an hour, he
would have to work 74 hours per week to reach this income threshold. Even at
$10.50 (€7.79) per hour, a Sodexo worker would still have to work nearly 53
hours per week to surpass the income threshold for this anti-hunger program.
Many Sodexo workers also are eligible for other federal anti-poverty programs,
such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants,
and Children (commonly known as WIC),60 and free- and reduced-price school lunches.

Some of the report’s worker interviews are very revealing about why it’s difficult for workers to fight for their rights against Sodexo’s corporate culture of hostility and disregard for low-wage employees:

One example of the limited usefulness of company-initiated monitoring of
working conditions comes from Sodexo in Morocco. “We do not complain about
the supervisor because we are scared of him,” a Sodexo worker reports. “Once
a year, Sodexo send us an anonymous and confidential questionnaire with
56 questions where we could complain about him, but we don’t say the truth
because we are scared.”(106)

We encourage you to read the report for yourself. It speaks volumes that New Orleans is the American city which TransAfrica felt warranted comparison to some of Sodexo’s most outlandish worker rights violations in Africa and Latin America. And this raises the question: Why is Tulane doing business with a company that egregiously violates ethical and legal standards for the treatment of its employees?

That very question was posed to University of Washington President Phyllis W. Wise by students; and President Wise, taking the kind of simple action that we’ve been asking from President Cowen for an entire year, sent a letter to Sodexo CEO George Chavel asking him to explain the concerns many of us have with Sodexo’s practices and its failure to live up to its stated policies.

You can read the letter here. Why can’t President Cowen take this very basic step, and show some leadership on the issue of the treatment of campus workers, and Tulane’s association with the immoral acts of Sodexo? The University of Washington is demonstrating that it is committed to social justice. Tulane has been a national leader in this area, the first University to institute a public service graduation requirement, and it’s time we step up and take action on ensuring that we are contributing to the solutions for the problems of global poverty and mistreatment of workers, rather than helping to create and exacerbate those problems.

Stay posted for upcoming actions and events we have planned for this semester. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list to get a weekly update on the campaign and more info on meetings and events we’re holding.


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