Speaker at UCD Women in Leadership Conference linked to UK prison where death of child occurred

Image Credit: Dominic Daly

Julie Ennis, an employee of Sodexo is due to speak at the conference. Sodexo operates several UK prisons which have come under criticism in recent years for allegations of neglect, following incidents such as the death of a child.

Ennis is currently CEO of Corporate Services in the UK and Ireland for Sodexo, and also holds the position of Sodexo Country President for Ireland. A BA graduate of the UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School, Ennis is due to speak at the Arthur Cox UCD Women in Leadership conference 2021 on the 24th of February. Ennis will be speaking in session 4 of the conference, entitled Diversity & Inclusion: From Policy to Action.

Sodexo Justice Services, a subsidiary of Sodexo offers prison and community rehabilitation services for the United Kingdom Home Office. The company operates five prisons in the UK which have been the subjects of allegations of abuse and neglect in recent years.

In August 2013 the Independent reported that, an official report criticised Sodexo Justice Services for “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” in HMP Bronzefield, a facility operated by Sodexo in Surrey. The women’s prison detained a female prisoner for over five years in a “squalid” cell. The treatment was discovered by Chief inspector of prisons, Nick Harwick.

In August 2018 The Manchester Evening News reported that video footage taken in HMP Forest Bank showed naked prisoners pretending to be dogs, which prompted an investigation into Sodexo in October 2016.

In December 2017 HMP Northumberland, a facility managed by Sodexo, featured on BBC Panorama highlighting mismanagement issues and illegal substance abuse.

In December 2018, the Independent reported that an inquest found neglect and systemic failures resulted in the 2016 death of female prisoner Natasha Chin in the Sodexo run HMP Bronzefield. The inquest found that Natasha’s death was caused by the failure of Sodexo to ensure observations were undertaken and there were appropriate systems to carry out prompt administration of medication.

In February 2019, BBC News reported that Sodexo was criticized by the Ministry of Justice in the UK for failing to prevent repeated and systemic breaches of human rights at HMP Peterborough, a Sodexo operated facility. This criticism was a result of several illegal strip-searches of prisoners in 2017, including on one inmate who was menstruating and another who was transitioning.

In April 2019, The Guardian reported that an inquest found that the death of Annabella Landsberg in HMP Peterborough in 2017 was contributed to by serious failures of the Sodexo run facility.

In October 2019 The Guardian reported that a baby died after a woman gave birth alone in her cell at HMP Bronzefield, a Sodexo operated facility. The case caused serious concern regarding the conditions of the prison, and why a woman was unsupervised and without medical support during her labour and birth.

Four women have died in the Sodexo run HMP Bronzefield since 2016.

The University Observer spoke to Leighton Gray, Campaigns and Engagement Officer for UCD Students Union on the issue. “The issue of Julie Ennis and Sodexo was brought to my attention from a concerned student. They informed me of the situation and provided resources for me to look into. I then spoke to various society auditors to discuss the issue further. It is bitterly disappointing to see an event that is intended to uplift and empower women, platform the CEO of a company that has done much harm to other women. Deaths caused by abuse, illegal strip searches, women giving birth alone, mistreatment of trans women and infant deaths are not the results of a company that empowers women. My hope is that UCD simply did not research their guests well, as the presence of Julie Ennis seems contradictory to the event. If this is the case, it is imperative that UCD researches guests before inviting them, considering it has an influential and wide reaching platform. Going forward, UCD needs to ensure that speakers invited to the Women in Leadership Conference, do actively empower women and care about basic human rights.”

UCD has yet to respond to a request for comment, but this article will be updated when one is received.