The catering company Aramark, who until recently operated cafés in Trinity’s Hamilton building have told Trinity News that the student campaign Aramark Off Our Campus “was not a factor” in the company’s decision to end their contract with College in December.
A spokesperson for Aramark told Trinity News that “the student campaign was not a factor in our decision and any suggestion to the contrary is false and misleading”, adding that “students and staff attending Trinity College Dublin are well served by food operators both on and off campus. Our decision to cease operations was based on this commercial reality.”
The contract which Aramark had with Trinity was set to expire in 2019 but had the option to be extended until 2021.
During their time on campus, the Aramark operated cafes were subject to protest and boycott from students who objected to the company’s involvement in catering for three direct provision centres in Cork, Clare and Westmeath.
The Aramark Off Our Campus group held a series of demonstrations in 2018 outside the Hamilton cafes, holding signs that read “Aramark Profits From Human Suffering” and “Westland Eats Funds Refugee Imprisonment”.
Speaking to Trinity News, co-founders of the group and now Trinity graduates Stacy Wrenn and Jessie Dolliver said: “Aramark left Trinity because they weren’t making enough money. To say that the campaign was ‘not a factor’ in this decision to leave is completely false. If the boycott didn’t bother them, they wouldn’t have launched an official counter-campaign on campus. If it didn’t impact their sales they wouldn’t have sent staff out to observe the picket and message our social media accounts afterwards asking us to stop.”
“Aramark are an exploitative company from top to bottom,” the campaigners added. “They made life for the international protection applicants in their direct provision centres unbearable through poor living conditions and intimidation. We’re glad to see the back of them.”
In 2016, Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) released a report stating that Aramark was paid €5.2 million for its services by the Irish state in the direct provision system. Previously, up to 2010, Aramark received €16 million from the state.
The United Nations Refugee Agency has repeatedly called for urgent reform of Ireland’s system of processing asylum seekers, and has been condemned by many as an inhumane and cruel process. In 2015 residents carried out a brief hunger strike in the Aramark run centre in Knockalisheen Co. Limerick, after some were hospitalised as a result of poorly produced food. A year earlier a hunger strike occurred in the Lissywollen Accommodation centre in Athlone Co. Meath, also run by Aramark, due to small portion sizes, poor hygiene, and living standards.
In a statement to Trinity News at the time of the demonstrations, Aramark said the company “respects the right to protest but regrets that a very small number of students have chosen to demonstrate outside Westland Eats on Trinity College campus as part of a larger protest against direct provision. Direct provision is government policy and Aramark has no influence in this regard.”
Both the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) hold policies of boycotting the company, as well as several other student unions across Ireland.