By Natasha Livingstone
The University has renewed their £5 million contract with Mitie Group Plc, a company accused of violating human rights.
The decision ignores significant student protest, largely organised by Durham’s People and the Planet Society.
The divisive FTSE 250 strategic outsourcing company has been working with the University since 2010.
Mitie provides cleaning, landscaping and total security management in Durham, but is also the largest single private sector provider of immigration detention centres in the UK.
Last year, People and the Planet’s ‘Mitie Must Fall’ campaign criticised the firm’s management of their confinement facilities. They cited reports of overcrowding, poor sanitation and hunger strikes.
In September 2017, BBC News reported that a Polish man detained at a Mitie-controlled immigration centre died in hospital four days after an attempted suicide.
In response, five college JCRs passed motions opposing the University’s relationship with Mitie, and Durham Students’ Union announced its decision “to publicly oppose and lobby against the University to ban future contracts with Mitie Group plc and similar companies operating detention centres”.
People and Planet also wrote two open letters to Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, and scribed chalk messages on Kingsgate Bridge to inform students about Mitie’s inhumane treatment of detainees.
Since renewing the deal, the Vice-Chancellor has negated promises to work with People and the Planet to ensure Mitie behaves ethically.
The University has been unresponsive to messages attempting to arrange a meeting.
Bethany Holden, who organised last year’s campaign, told Palatinate: “It is disappointing that the University still does not realise the seriousness of this issue.
“I hope that they will soon take concrete action to demonstrate their commitment to protecting human rights and ensuring its procurement policy has benefit for the wider community, rather than simply considering financial issues.”
In response to an open letter last year urging the University not to renew the deal, the Vice-Chancellor said: “On the subject of our contract with Mitie, we will be reletting this contract in anticipation of its expiration via a competitive process in the near future.
“We will be asking all bidders to confirm their compliance with our CSER policies, including that related to the Modern Slavery Act”.
Photograph: Durham University