Nine activists, including seven students, were arrested at Ohio State University on Monday as they occupied the offices of university president Gordon Gee (see the United Students Against Sweatshops website). They are among over one hundred activists who were protesting the relationship between OSU and the industrial cafeteria giant Sodexo. The protest was organized by the OSU chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), according to The Lantern.com. The arrestees were charged with criminal trespassing.
Angus Johnston, at the Student Activism website, said that USAS has organized almost a dozen campus protests across the nation recently, including one at Western Washington University, which forced the university to break ties with Sodexo.
ASUS wants OSU to sever its 15-year deal with Sodexo to provide concessions at their athletics facilities. The ASUS website says that the contract is worth over $100 million. OSU students were particularly outraged after OSU’s President Gee denied responsibility for severe abuses of Sodexo’s workers at OSU stadiums. The ASUS website says that Sodexo employees at OSU have reported sub-poverty wages, sexual harassment, racist hiring practices, an inadequate sick leave policy and sweatshop-like working conditions. Gee’s attitude should come as no surprise, considering he is a millionaire, himself, and the highest-paid public university president in the country.
Sodexo is guilty of labor abuses across the globe. Trans Africa Forum and Human Rights Watch reported that Sodexo employees in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guinea, Morocco and the U.S. often suffer poverty wages, high rates of workplace injuries, and risk of dismissal for union organizing. In Colombia, Sodexo served contaminated food to its own employees, giving 60 of them food poisoning. Sodexo is guilty of union busting in the U.S., as well as taking kickbacks from suppliers, like Kelloggs.
Sodexo is the largest supplier of school lunches in the U.S. Sodexo, made more than $1 billion in profits in 2009, an 8.1% increase over the year before, much of it from school lunches. Despite their huge profits, many Sodexo employees in the U.S. made only $7.50 per hour, qualifying them for food stamps, and making their kids eligible for free school lunches. Additionally, two-thirds of their non-managerial employees lack health coverage.