On Wednesday night, the Aramark Off UCD Campus held the official launch of their campaign in the red room.
To a room of 40 attendees, the group announced the reasons behind their campaign, and their plan. Modelling their boycott after the similar boycott in Trinity College Dublin, the group hope to hold weekly boycotts with picket lines outside the main restaurant, which is catered by Aramark.
Aramark are a global catering company and provide catering services for three out of the 35 direct provision centres in Ireland.
In their introduction, the campaign group said that meals are provided at three set times during the day, that the meals are of poor nutritional value, and that no options are provided for those with specific dietary requirements or religious beliefs which prevent them from eating certain foods.
The campaign group believe Aramark are profiting from a system in which asylum seekers are ill-treated.
The room listened to the story of Vukasin Nedeljkovic, an artist as well as a current PhD student at DIT, who spent 3 years in a direct provision centre. Originally from Serbia, Nedeljkovic applied for asylum in Ireland in 2007, and he spoke of the grimness of life within the direct provision centre.
Nedeljkovic spoke to the audience about the lack of control people in direct provision have over what they eat, relying on the food provided by the catering companies. He spoke of families crammed into small living spaces, and of the isolation that comes with living in a direct provision centre. Most centres are located outside towns and cities, leaving the residents unable to integrate with local communities.
To portray the every day lives of asylum seekers, Nedeljkovic created an exhibition called ‘The Asylum Archive’ which is based on his own personal experiences.
Following the launch, the University Observer spoke with campaign group member Róisín O’Donnell, who says their ultimate aim is for “everyone to boycott Aramark.”
“In the end we want UCD not to renew their contract with Aramark.” O’Donnell says that the similar campaign in Trinity has succeeded in that the university management have agreed “that they will not renew their contract [with Aramark].” This claim has since been disputed by Aramark who told the University Observer “that Aramark’s contract with Trinity remains in place.”
O’Donnell credits this development to the involvement of TCDSU, who were able to attend talks with the university management. TCDSU has a mandate to campaign against direct provision, and due to this mandate, they became involved with the Aramark boycott.
A motion was brought to UCDSU council last week, which, if passed, would have mandated the SU to support the Aramark boycott. According to Welfare Officer Eoghan Mac Domhnaill, the SU “will take our lead from what our class reps say, and what their classes have told them, and should a mandate come up to us, we shall act accordingly.” Mac Domhnaill says the motion was brought to the SU council by class reps but that “the motion was deferred due to errors and editing will take place” so the motion can be discussed at the next SU council.
The highly-controlled, grim life in direct provision that Nedeljkovic described in his talk stems from issues that have nothing to do with catering, and O’Donnell does believe “we should be going after the government” about this issue. But also, O’Donnell emphasises that this campaign is “about students. I want students to be angry about this. I think putting it in terms of what you do every day, what you eat every day, is a great way for people to take personal action.”
O’Donnell thinks the overall effect on profits within the Aramark company “is miniscule… I think the way to hit a company is through the profits, but I don’t think it will have a huge effect.” However, despite a concern of making their presence felt, O’Donnell points out that boycotters in Trinity were handed leaflets from Aramark that told “the facts” about how Aramark provides for people living in direct provision. “That signals that [Aramark are] feeling it a little bit. I don’t know about Aramark, but hopefully the government will think ‘maybe we shouldn’t employ these companies’ but I think in terms of profits in Aramark [it won’t make much difference].
The next step for the campaign is to start picketing the main restaurant, which is catered by Aramark. O’Donnell hopes that people will come up the picketers to ask “what is direct provision?” For O’Donnell it’s important not only to get “Aramark off our campus, but we also want people to know what direct provision is…. And I think [the picket line] is a great way of actually getting people’s attention.”
As of yet, the group have not decided on a specific date to start picketing.
Editor’s note: Since the publication of this article, the University Observer has been informed that Aramark’s contract with Trinity remains in place.