Students Petition DU to Reconsider Contract With Controversial Food Provider

A group of students at the University of Denver's law school has started a petition requesting that DU reconsider its contract with Sodexo, a global supplier of food services that operates in many universities. DU is in the process of renegotiating its contract with the France-based company, which counts nearly 400,000 employees around the world.

"The DU community has no idea if there are binding provisions concerning the type of food purchased, guarantees about the quality of employment for Sodexo’s workers, or the ramifications if Sodexo does not deliver on its promises," says the petition. "This deal is purportedly on the table, and could even be signed now, but as the entire process has thus far been shielded, there is no way to know."

Sodexo has faced scrutiny over reported workers'-rights violations; in 2011, Regis University dropped Sodexo as its main food provider over allegations that it mistreated employees.

"The university is not being transparent in the way it's going about the contract negotiation process," says Tyler Nemkov, a law student at DU (and former Westword intern), who's behind the petition. "That's fine, because it's a private institution and can do whatever it wants, but on the other hand, I think there should be some transparency — considering that [DU] serves 7,000 meals a day — to the people they're serving meals to."

The university counters that it has included student input in renegotiation talks. In an e-mail to Nemkov, Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence Liliana Rodriguez wrote that "part of our assessment of the relationship with Sodexo has been to rely on surveys undertaken by Sodexo to assess student and other dining patrons’ satisfaction with their dining experience on campus.

"We noted that satisfaction is improving — at 85 percent this past year with a healthy 25 percent response rate — and have confidence that scores will continue to improve," she continued. The university has also added students to its Dining Advisory Committee.

"In response to efforts from you and your colleagues, the Committee developed a proposed Sustainable Food Policy, which Sodexo has agreed to be bound by in the future," she wrote. "We believe that the policy is likely to improve outcomes and accountability in a variety of important areas."

DU has not responded to our request for comment.

Nemkov thinks that Sodexo's alleged $10 million donation toward a new student center, which he says the on-campus Sodexo representative confirmed in meetings, might play into the university's decision to keep Sodexo.

Nemkov acknowledges that a corporation donating money to a university isn't necessarily odd or nefarious. "When I tell people this, they kind of take it as a conspiracy theory or something, and I don't think that's the case at all," he says. "It's a combination of things that feels a bit off."