Food Politics

Apr 28, 2014 No Comments by

Sodexo, the multi-billion dollar food-service company is one of the biggest corporations in the world, claiming to serve about 75 million consumers in 80 different countries every day. In North America alone, Sodexo serves over 15 million consumers every day, but these consumers are not all just college students receiving food from their dining halls.  Further investigation into the role of Sodexo the United States and in Europe has pointed to a presence of the company in larger institutions.

A 2013 report from PR Watch explains that Sodexo acquired stock investment in the private prison company Corrections Corporation of America based in the United States, and was the largest investor in the company by 2000. According to Corporate Watch, Sodexo was one of three corporations in 2012 that owned the fourteen private prisons in the United Kingdom, holding over thirteen percent of the prison population in the that country. This food-distributing company’s ties to prisons raises many questions about the role of corporate money in large state-run systems and how that affects different citizens.

A 2010 report released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research states that crime alone cannot explain the increase in incarceration. A more accurate explanation for this increase could be the corporatization of prisons that allows large businesses to play an integral part of the rehabilitation and criminalization process. In 2011, The Justice Policy Center released a report that stated that, “Since private prison companies are in the business to make money, policies that maintain or increase incarceration boost their revenues; from a business perspective, the economic and social costs of mass incarceration are externalities that aren’t figured into their corporate bottom line.”

As governments across the globe along with large corporations increase funding for corrections, marginalized and poor are incarcerated at an exponential rate, with 33% of men in prison being Black and 17% being Latino.



Many, including activist, Angela Davis, see the issue of race and class-based incarceration as a large one, as it may be indicative of a greater problem of corporations profiting from marginalization of people who lack privilege. Just as fast-food chains profit from people who cannot afford healthier, usually more costly food, the food service, Sodexo is profiting off of laws such as Stop-and-Frisk policies, that have been known to unfairly target men of color.

A brief look at the private prisons illuminate the plethora of intense side-effects of corporate-sponsored correctional facilities, including violence , sexual abuse, and inhumane conditions.  However, data from the ACLU implies that the issue with private prisons does not arise within the structure itself, rather outside of the institution, before the individual becomes a prisoner, implying that prisons as a whole are corrupt systems.  Since private correctional facilities only stay in business if people stay locked up, the business model of these prisons encourage the increase of incarcerated people. Because of this, easily-targeted populations such as immigrants, people of color, and poor are being put in jail in order to keep up the profits. A 2012 report by the Sentencing Project found that Black men and women contribute to just under forty percent of the revenue stream, and although public prisons also have a disproportionately large number of people of color, private institutions have more. A 2014 study conducted by Christopher Petrella laid out the percentage of people of color in private prisons compared to that percentage in state-owned prisons.  The results showed that in every state, there were more men of color in privately-owned prisons than in state-owned prisons.


Even in Europe, where Sodexo still currently funds many private prisons, there is a high percentage of incarcerated people of color. In England and Wales, about 25% of the people in prison are minorities.  Although Sodexo has stopped supporting Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), in which it had acquired a significant stock investment in the early 1990’s, the company has stayed very involved in the European and Australian private prison industry, continuing to fund the issues that come with profiting off of putting people in poorly regulated prisons.  This support of a multi-billion dollar institution makes Sodexo much more than a food distributor. Sodexo plays an implicit role in the discrimination of people of color and low-income people, and by paying for the Sodexo meal plans and eating the food, students are unknowingly complacent with this system, whether or not they support it.

However, students that are eating in Sodexo dining halls have a significant amount of power in this cycle.  Sodexo only pulled support of the CCA in 2001 after students from 60 North American Campuses campaigned against its involvement in the prison industrial complex.  With the politicization of food, consumers, once educated, must ask themselves whether or not to remain complacent with, often times, larger systems of privilege and oppression.  College students everywhere might soon find themselves asking a similar question.


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