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Swedish govt funds hail engagement success over ‘inhumane’ UK immigration centre

Sodexo agrees on company-wide human rights policy.

Sodexo, the Paris- and New York-listed food and facilities management company, has agreed to address what have been called “inhumane” conditions at a controversial immigrant detention centre it runs in the UK, following pressure from the Ethical Council of the Swedish government AP-pension funds. In May 2007, the Ethical Council cited systematic human rights abuses at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Center near Heathrow Airport, which is managed by Sodexo subsidiary Kalyx, as a reason for lobbying the company to change its policy. In 2006, a report by the UK HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMIP) said Kalyx was using disproportionate disciplinary measures and degrading treatment on detainees at Harmondsworth. The company had received similar criticisms from HMIP in 2003 over its treatment of immigrants being held in the centre.
Harmandsworth was the site of a major arson incident in 2006, which detainees blamed on conditions in thecentre. Analysis for the Ethical Council by Stockholm-based GES Investment Services showed that the reported incidents could be associated to violations of the UN Global Compact Principles, of which Sodexo is a signatory, as well as underlying international norms like the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees that have been signed by the Swedish government. Last month, Sodexo said it would adopt a company-wide human rights policy and address conditions at the detainee centre. Carl Rosén, chairman of the AP Ethical Council, said: “This is proof that it is fully possible for us as shareholders to influence the companies we invest in to respect the conventions signed by the Swedish Government. It also underlines the soundness of the Ethical Council’s decision to intensify the dialogue by visiting the companies for face-to-face discussions.”