Sodexo pleases investors with group-wide policyJanuary 2009
The facilities management multinational Sodexo has adopted a group-wide human rights policy after an investors’ engagement campaign.
The Paris-based company, which has 342,000 employees in 80 countries, has published the policy on its internet and intranet sites with a memo from the chief executive.
All senior managers have been told to raise human rights awareness and to ‘integrate the respect of human rights into your programmes and initiatives’.
Sodexo, which manages prisons and defence installations as well as catering and leisure services for companies, has instructed all parts of the business to ‘define the procedures and responsibilities necessary to implement these principles and to ensure that they are adhered to’. The policy will be reviewed regularly ‘as we gain experience in its implementation’.
Issues included in the policy are equal opportunities and diversity, child and forced labour, promoting local recruitment, and disciplinary practices and coercion. However, there is no mention of whether Sodexo will consider the ethics of taking on certain contracts, particularly in the defence and prisons sectors.
Sodexo previously lacked a specific human rights policy but it emphasizes that it has had documents covering related areas for a number of years, including an Ethical Principles and Sustainable Development Contract signed by senior management in 2003. It claims the new document results from the company’s wish to ‘formalize’ existing policy.
However, some credit for the policy was claimed last month by the ethical council of the Swedish government AP Pension funds, which said it had discussed human rights with Sodexo for two years, especially concerns over a Sodexo subsidiary’s running of the Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre in London.
In 2006 the UK’s chief inspector of prisons found the subsidiary, Kalyx, had used ‘disproportionate disciplinary measures and degrading treatment’ on detainees. This was the second time Kalyx had been criticized over its treatment of immigrants in the centre.
The ethical council began face-to-face discussions with Sodexo on the issue in 2007, arguing that the group had breached the human rights principles of the United Nations Global Compact, of which Sodexo is a signatory.
Carl Rosen, the council’s chairman, said Sodexo’s adoption of a human rights policy should be seen as ‘proof that it is fully possible for us as shareholders to influence the companies we invest in’.
AP was joined in its engagement by other investors, including the Norwegian life insurance company Kommunal Landspensjonskasse, which had excluded Sodexo from its portfolio because of human rights concerns. It has now reinstated the company.
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