UCD will host the ‘Women in Leadership’ conference on the 24th and 25th of February. The conference is sponsored by Arthur Cox, Aldi, Abbot and Skoda as well as the University’s Alumni  relations and Societies Council.

With speakers such as Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu and Irish Times 2020 ‘Business Person of the Year’ Róisín Hennerty participating, the Conference has boasted of ‘inspiring leadership talks’ and ‘valuable networking opportunities’ within its promotions. However, the involvement of Julie Ennis, CEO of Sodexo’s corporate services, has caused controversy across the college, with emails proposing that she be uninvited being sent to the Societies Council. 

The controversy surrounding Ennis’ invitation is due to the fact that Sodexo is heavily involved in the prison system in the UK, managing five prisons there that have seen a massive amount of scandal since the former catering company took over operation in the early 2000’s.

Sodexo is directly named as being at fault for a number of deaths and incidents stemming from abuse and neglect on the company’s part. These include unlawful strip-searches, the death of an unwell prisoner due to lack of monitoring, and a string of unsafe births that culminated in the death of a baby girl in HMP Bronzefield in 2019 after her mother had no choice but to give birth alone in her cell. 

Those taking issue with Ennis speaking are backed by UCDSU. They feel that the invitation of someone heading a company that has systemically degraded and harmed women within the prisons it controls is contradictory to the feminist message an event surrounding ‘Women in Leadership’ promotes. When asked for comment, Leighton Gray, Campaigns and Engagement Officer had this to say:

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. 

Several societies have criticised the link with Sodexo, with the German Society publishing a call for Ennis’ removal on their Instagram page. A total of 16 societies are included in this public petition.

It is unclear whether Ennis will be removed from the host of speakers set to attend the event as UCD Societies Council has yet to comment or respond at this time. 

Lucy Mackarel – Reporter

Note: An earlier version of this article stated that Julie Ennis was the CEO of Sodexo. It has since been updated to show that Ennis is the CEO of Sodexo’s corporate wing.