Founded in 1966, Sodexo Group is the largest food services and facilities management company in the world as of 2016. Its headquarters are located in Issy-les-Moulineaux, France. Sodexo is the 18th largest corporation in the world, operating in 80 countries and employing approximately 425,000 people. Its 2016 revenues were $20.2 billion.
Sodexo operates in three main sectors: on-site services in corporate, defense, justice services, remote sites, health care, seniors, education, and sports and leisure segments, with services including reception, food services, cleaning, and technical maintenance of facilities and equipment; employee benefits (in both the public and private spheres); and personal and home services, including in-home assistance, child care, and concierge services.
On-site services account for 96 percent of Sodexo’s business worldwide.The company largely operates in North America, which comprises 43 percent of its activities, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Sodexo, Inc., headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland. An estimated 9 percent of Sodexo’s total on-site services come from management at remote sites, such as contracts with natural resource exploiting companies such as ExxonMobil and Hyundai. The company also provides dining services to more than 850 higher education institutions in both the U.S. and Canada.
Involvement in Prison Industry
Previously, Sodexo was involved in the global private prison industry through its stake in CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which runs private prisons in the U.S. and abroad. In 2001, six U.S universities (American University, SUNY-Albany, Goucher College, Evergreen State, James Madison University and Oberlin College) dropped contracts with Sodexo after its links with the private prison industry through CCA were made public. This, in addition to activist pressure at 46 other universities, compelled Sodexo to sell its shares in CoreCivic. CoreCivic co-founder and then-president Robert Crants also resigned from Sodexo’s board of directors.
Finally, that same year, CoreCivic sold its 50 percent share in Sodexo Justice Services, giving Sodexo full ownership of the company. Sodexo Justice Services is now part of Sodexo’s “on-site services” business and operates private prisons, rehabilitation centers, and immigrant detention centers. As of 2016, the company runs at least 122 prisons in eight countries across five continents. Sodexo Justice Services accounts for 3.3 percent of Sodexo’s annual revenue. In the UK alone, Sodexo houses 5,000 prisoners throughout five prisons.
In addition, Sodexo acquired CoreCivic’s shares in Corrections Corporation of Australia (another private prison corporation), renaming it Australian Integrated Management Services (AIMS). AIMS provides custodial transportation for Western Australia's prison service as well as security services for courts. According to 2016 financial filings, Sodexo has won a string of new contracts in Western Australia, which includes a 256-bed women’s facility (costing $24.6 million to build).
In the UK, the HMP Northumberland facility operated by Sodexo is ripe with controversies, including dangerously low staffing, assaults, drug smuggling, and deaths of incarcerated individuals. In 2017, following a BBC documentary shot undercover, it was reported that the facility had “descended into chaos, with failing alarms, prisoners calling the shots and a troubling drug problem sweeping its corridors”. The problems at the facility are so bad that experienced guards have been requesting severance packages to move on. Some guards have been offered up to £60,000 (about $79,000 U.S.) if they want to quit. A prison union representative said that losing the experienced guards would only exacerbate the problems at the facility, with new recruits being offered just £20,000 (about $26,000 U.S.) to replace them.
In 2005, Sodexo settled a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of its African-American employees for racial discrimination, paying $80 million. The company’s treatment of its employees has been a consistent focus of other litigation ever since. In 2010, Sodexo paid $20 million to settle claims made after the company was found overcharging 21 New York school districts and the State University of New York (SUNY) system for food and facilities services. The same year, Sodexo workers in Pennsylvania filed a class action lawsuit against the company for wage theft.
Also in 2010, Sodexo was responsible for a Listeria outbreak in meat served to U.S. Marine Corps bases, resulting in an investigation by the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, and the loss of its West Coast contract with the U.S military. In 2013, Sodexo faced a similar food safety issue when it was forced to recall all of its frozen beef products at over 2,300 sites in the UK, including its prison facilities after horsemeat was found in its supplies.
In 2011, the TransAfrica Forum produced a report detailing how “Sodexo’s employment practices violate their workers’ human right to their own livelihood,” citing evidence and testimonials from five countries: Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guinea, Morocco, and the United States. The same year, Human Rights Watch issued its own report on corporations’ violations of freedom of association in the United States, including Sodexo. The reports echoed claims made by students at Pomona College, who successfully pressured their administration not to renew its contract with Sodexo, due to complaints about food quality and treatment of workers.