Public outrage over Tory-funded free school meals scam

Pasqueline Agostinho, is a member of the YCL’s London branch

The free school meals company, Chartwells UK, linked to the Tories, has been publicly shamed on social media after its food parcels were sent to poor families to replace £30 vouchers only to find out that the food was worth significantly below £10. One mother shared pictures of her food which were given to eat for 10 days and she calculated at an ASDA price worth £5.22. The food parcel included a can of baked beans, a loaf of bread, eight single cheese slices, two soreen lunchbox loaves, two potatoes, some pasta, three apples, two carrots, three packets of frubes and one tomato. 

This means that Chartwells UK is profiting almost £25 off poor children and their families with each food package they send. Many other similar pictures were shared on Twitter by activist Jack Monroe who also shared DMs from angry parents and teachers saying that the food is simply not enough. Footballer and activist Marcus Rashford has also got involved and called it “unacceptable”. On Twitter he also said: “Then imagine we expect the children to engage in learning from home. Not to mention the parents who, at times, have to teach them who probably haven’t eaten at all so their children can…..We MUST do better. This is 2021.”

Part of the Compass Group, a for-profit food service chaired by Tory donor Paul Walsh, the company has yearly revenues of almost £25 billion and a profit of almost £1.2 billion. On the other hand, its sister company, Chartwells Independent offers luxurious food at private schools like a canapés selection provided to Norwich School. 

Instagram post of Chartwells Independent’s catering service for private schools

But who owns Compass? Its shareholders include the Vanguard Group Inc, Artisan Partners and Norges Bank Investment Management all owned by the super rich in which the £1.2 billion profit goes to.

Supported by our bourgeois state, Chartwells’ free school meal packages are presented by the corporation as charitable donations. However, with a a cash injection from the Tories worth almost six times the price of each package, the multi-billion pound corporation is knowingly profiting off poor and vulnerable families, many of whom have been stripped of cash due to redundancies during this pandemic. Forced into poverty from the absence of state welfare, it is ridiculous to expect that the amount of food provided within the food packages would amount to 10 days worth of school meals. Chartwells are more likely than not ecstatic about their wad of cash at the expense of our country’s working class youth.

This is not the first time Chartwells has come under fire. Back in March of 2020, Chartwells was slammed for their free school meal deliveries, providing packets of crisps and butter to schools in Bristol that were supposed to cost £11 a week. Peter Overton, the headteacher of one school affected, said that it was “shameful” that Chartwells was charging the school £11-a-week for the food for each pupil. 

Additionally, it is not the first time that the Compass group has come under fire. In 2013, Compass group was involved with the notorious horse meat scandal. Compass Group had “unknowingly” supplied horse meat in burgers to supermarket chains from Rangeland Foods in the UK and Ireland to what was supposed to be beef meat. In its tests, Compass group found that between 5% and 30% horse meat DNA were found in the burgers.

But more interestingly, Compass has not just received criticism from the UK but from other countries too as the firm is international. In New York, Taxpayer Protection Bureau had arranged a $18 million settlement with Compass group after the firm overcharged taxpayers for the lack of quality of food in the free school meals that the firm provided, with $3 million returned to schools and the remaining $15 million back to taxpayers. 

Moreover, Compass group had to settle two lawsuits paying up to £40 million to two rival food companies after bribing UN official, Alexander Yakovlev to win contracts worth millions of pounds to supply UN peacekeepers. The two food companies claimed that Compass led “an illegal conspiracy to rig the award of UN contracts worth in excess of $355 million (£188 million) to provide food rations to peacekeeping forces”. Compass did win the contracts to supply peacekeeping forces in Sudan, East Timor, Liberia, Burundi, Eritrea, Lebanon, Cyprus and Syria. 

Yakovlev was jailed for fraud and money laundering after a UN investigation took place which found out that Yakovlev took $1 million in bribes from companies doing business with the UN which included Compass. 

Chartwells is not a charity group, it’s an monopolistic imperialist firm, participating in active corruption both in the UK and overseas. Families should turn to community kitchens and food bank networks that definitely do not profit off their poverty. Compass group may be the largest Catering service in the world but that also comes with strings attached.

To conclude with an anti-imperialist quote said by Thomas Sankara: 

“Imperialism is a system of exploitation that occurs not only in the brutal form of those who come with guns to conquer territory. Imperialism often occurs in more subtle forms, a loan, food aid, blackmail.”

Pasqueline Agostinho

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