Catch me running out of College-in-the-Woods Dining Hall halfway through my insane Tuesday schedule with a takeaway box crushed under my arm. As busy students, we revel in the opportunity to take our food to go and squeeze in as much cramming time as we can.
What most don’t know, however, is that there is a interesting history behind those cardboard containers that we rely on.
It all began with Sodexo, Binghamton University’s food-service provider, and its relationship with Reynolds Group Holdings, a U.S. packaging company best known for their presence in your kitchen drawers as foil sheets. More specifically, let’s start at the very beginning, when Reynolds bought out a smaller packaging company called Pactiv.
This company became infamous due to countless allegations against it by former employees who compared their working conditions to those of a sweatshop — overworked hours, underpaid labor and minimal unpaid leave. The company denied all allegations and instead fired a wave of supporting employees in one swoop for trying to unionize and boycott Reynolds’ products.
Pactiv was Sodexo’s supplier of packaging material — including massive amounts of to-go containers. A group of BU students banded together to form Students Organizing Against Reynolds (SOAR) to protest the association of our institution with a company recognized for its employee mistreatment.
They reached out to University President Harvey Stenger and voiced their concerns, demanding all ties to Pactiv and therein, Reynolds, be broken. According to a member of SOAR, Stenger redirected the group to the administration of Sodexo, and after some heroic efforts on both sides, Sodexo agreed to stop using Pactiv as their packaging supplier.
But like any good story, there’s a twist. Although Sodexo changed providers to better-managed companies, BU and Reynolds Group Holdings are still very much involved. Administration within the school continue to use Reynolds as a packaging supplier in most of its production; the company’s presence is prevalent in the University Bookstore and in vending machines across campus that sell Coca-Cola bottles.
SOAR’s founder, Kai Wen Yang, a professor of sociology at BU, called for an institutional boycott to have the school take a stand against indirectly promoting Pactiv’s sweatshop practices. He related the unfair conditions to student experience, writing in an email, “Overtime is something that students face now or if not, when they graduate, they will face … Whenever students go for jobs, they will have to deal with exploitation just like the Pactiv workers did … Any companies that exploit sweatshop practices should have no place on campus.”
Current members of SOAR continue to fight against the company’s presence on our campus by organizing protests, boycotts and screenings of informational films.
Everyone should be on the lookout for the Pactiv logo. I would recommend peaceful protest by staying away from the purchase of these products. If their demand continues to decrease, a fall of its supply will follow — that way employees have a better chance of working standard hours in certified and standard working conditions.
Reynolds CEO Lance Mitchell claims on the company’s website, “Our goal is to continue to earn your trust and offer new products and product improvements that make running a household easier. How we do it is just as important as the products we sell.”
I’d argue that to earn my trust, you have to earn my respect. To do that, these sweatshop practices need to be taken out of the equation. BU shouldn’t represent such companies and the administration of the premier SUNY should be held accountable.
Hannah Gulko is a sophomore majoring in human development.