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Sodexho gives suppliers some food for thought

April 2004

The US division of one of the world’s biggest catering and facilities management companies has sent a code of conduct to suppliers as part of its campaign to become a CSR leader in its sector.

Sodexho USA, a subsidiary of the multinational Sodexho Alliance, one of France’s 40 largest companies, says it will favour suppliers inside and outside the US that show they have ‘sound and responsible ethical, social and environmental practices’. In particular it aims to support the ‘educational, cultural, economic and social wellbeing’ of the communities in which it operates. Suppliers that work to ‘sustain, protect and restore the environment’ by means such as energy conservation, recycling and proper waste disposal, will also be favoured.

Although the code stipulates minimum requirements for suppliers, the company says that it does not expect them to fulfil all of these immediately. It wants ‘a process of continuous improvement’, and will work with suppliers who ‘may need time to address areas in which they may not be in compliance’. It has arranged meetings with the 40 biggest suppliers and has held a conference for 90 suppliers to reinforce the message.

The areas covered by the code include child labour, harassment, wages and benefits, working hours and the environment. It says suppliers should pay at least ‘prevailing’ market wages or the legal minimum, whichever is higher; that workers’ housing, where provided, should meet the health and safety standards applying in the workplace; and that employees should have freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Sodexho USA, which runs canteens and other services for 6000 companies, colleges and healthcare centres in North America and has an annual $5.5billion (£2.9bn) turnover, has recently shown greater interest in CSR. In 2002 it became the first company in its sector to endorse the Global Sullivan Principles for Social Responsibility, and published its first corporate responsibility report last year.

It now carries out an annual ethical conduct survey, asking the 110,000 employees whether they have discovered unethical practices, and has a toll-free ‘business abuse hotline’ for whistleblowers. It offers an ‘office of employment rights’ for employees to air grievances on discrimination and harassment, and is training staff on US child labour laws. Senior executives’ remuneration packages are linked to diversity targets.

The company recently signed an agreement with the organic and health food group United Natural Foods to offer products on Sodexho USA premises. Ann Oka, Sodexho USA’s senior vice-president for procurement services, said the aim of the deal was to show its ‘commitment to support the use of socially responsible products and services’ and be a CSR leader.

Since 2000 Sodexho USA has been hit by college campus campaigns protesting against its parent company’s involvement in running private prisons.




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