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

TUPAC Calls on Cowen to Investigate Sodexo

Members of the Tulane University Peace Action Committee delivered a letter to President Cowen on February 15, 2011 (full text below). As we say in the letter, any time Sodexo is investigated, wrongdoing seems to be uncovered. We will continue to update this website as new information comes to light. It is our hope that President Cowen will takes steps to ensure that a) Sodexo is not overcharging or defrauding Tulane University, and has never done so in the past, and b) Tulane University does not associate itself with the shocking abuses you find detailed in the reports and articles linked to below.

Dear President Cowen,

Almost exactly one year ago, we wrote to you expressing our concern over the treatment of our campus food service workers. We have advanced numerous constructive proposals for acknowledging and addressing these issues and we have met with resistance at every level and every step of the process.

New information has come to light over the past year, which adds another dimension to our questions about Tulane University’s relationship with Sodexo. This information leads us to wonder whether Tulane University should be doing business with Sodexo at all.

Last summer, it was revealed that Sodexo had been actively defrauding the State of New York, accepting rebates from food companies but billing the state for the full cost. Sodexo paid $20 million to settle the case. This incident came just five years after Sodexo paid out $80 million to settle a class-action lawsuit regarding widespread racial discrimination in hiring and promotion practices at Sodexo.

Originally, we raised issues about Sodexo because of the shocking, upsetting stories that we heard firsthand from worker’s on Tulane’s campus. Now we are learning that these are not isolated incidents, but that Sodexo is internationally notorious with regard to human rights and labor abuses.

According to a report issued in January by TransAfrica Forum, Sodexo required women in Colombia to take pregnancy tests as a condition of employment, and failed to provide safety equipment to mine workers. In Guinea, workers were subjected to blatant racial segregation. In the Dominican Republic, Sodexo accepted responsibility for poisoning hundreds of its employees with tainted food. Sodexo routinely intimidates, harasses and fires workers when they exercise their right to free speech and try to speak out about the abuse they face at the hands of their employer. Indeed, it seems that any time Sodexo is investigated, in the U.S. and internationally, wrongdoing is uncovered.

New Orleans was the only American city mentioned alongside Guinea, Colombia, Morocco and the Dominican Republic in the TransAfrica report. Seeing Tulane’s name associated with these disgusting actions makes us sick—and we hope you feel the same.

We have seen many updates lately about the Tulane Empowers campaign. The noble mission of that campaign is tarnished and undercut by Tulane’s association with this reprehensible corporation, which extracts a profit from New Orleans by abusing its citizens. Sodexo actively disempowers its employees by paying them poverty wages, treating them like criminals, disrespecting their rights and degrading their humanity. In light of this information, we believe that continuing a relationship with Sodexo is unconscionable on the part of the University.

Phyllis Wise, President of the University of Washington, recently sent a letter to Sodexo asking them to explain the accusations raised in the TransAfrica report, which were brought to her attention by students, and threating to cut their contract unless they could account for these allegations. We hope that you, like President Wise, will take a proactive role in addressing this issue. This is not only internal to Tulane; it is about the international practices of one of the world’s largest corporations, which sets global standards for the service industry. Tulane University has the power to force this company to reform, and in doing so, empower thousands of Sodexo employees across the globe, including those men and women who cook and serve the food to Tulane’s students each and every day. We encourage you not to pass up this opportunity to take a stand for what is right.

We expect a response from you, detailing concrete steps that your administration will take to investigate Sodexo and address the question of whether it is appropriate for our University to be associated with this company, by February 24th. We have continued to work with the Social Issues Committee to write and implement a labor code of conduct at Tulane. This process, however, is not adequate to address the broader question of Tulane University’s relationship with Sodexo. As a national leader known for finding community solutions, and our campus leader who we turn to when we see things happening here we believe are not right, we hope to see you take concrete steps to address our concerns.


We delivered the following reports and articles along with the letter:

New York Times article on a race bias lawsuit against Sodexo, settled in 2005 for $80 million.
Announcement of a $20 million settlement with the State of New York over defrauding their public schools
TransAfrica Forum’s report of Sodexo’s international human rights abuses
A copy of the letter sent by University of Washington President Phyllis Wise to Sodexo’s CEO, George Chavel

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