Words by Cameron Trencher, Staff Writer
Sussex students have demonstrated this month in protest against the University’s association with outsourcing company Mitie Group PLC. The campaign, led by Instagram account @mitiemustfall, argues ‘Mitie is the epitome of a company that prioritises profit over people.’
Mitie has come under fire for its business ventures, as well as its mistreatment of workers and unsanitary working conditions.
The controversial firm has a partnership with the University of Sussex to run Sussex Estates and Facilities. SEF oversees total facilities management on campus, including construction and security.
The movement has posted an official Change.org petition, which has so far garnered almost 100 signatures, attached to an open letter to the University. This letter calls for commitments to break ties with Mitie as soon as the current contract with the University expires, as well as ‘an immediate acknowledgement and condemnation of Mitie’s role in the Hostile Environment.’
The Hostile Environment is a UK Government policy which intends to reduce immigration into the country.
Mitie is the largest provider of Immigration Removal Centre management in the UK. The company is contracted by the Home Office to operate a detention facility in Heathrow, which is the largest of its sort in Europe.
An investigation of Mitie’s detention centres by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons found the Heathrow facilities ‘dirty’ and ‘rundown’. Poor response to the pandemic led to a number of outbreaks of COVID-19 in late 2020 which prompted calls for all detainees to be released, though no action was taken.
In February of 2022 it was revealed that a WhatsApp group between Mitie staff was being used to exchange racist and offensive messages. Top-level staff received complaints of this two years ago and yet failed to act.
The contract between Mitie and the University is worth £30 million, and is set to expire in 2024 if not extended. This contract was initially made with Interserve, a company Mitie acquired two years ago.
Students led a demonstration around campus on the 4th of March, attracting crowds chanting ‘Mitie, Mitie, Mitie, out, out, out.’ Protesters held signs and banners expressing their anger with the company. Leaflets urging the University Executive Group to stop endorsing Mitie’s ethos can be found across campus.
The campaign believes that Mitie’s association with the University is at odds with Sussex’s status as a ‘University of Sanctuary’, which recognises the University’s commitment to support for refugees and people in the asylum system. This status was awarded before Mitie’s purchase of Interserve linked them with the institution.
Students at Durham University have voiced concerns after their University renewed a similar partnership with Mitie. Mitie Must Fall this week announced a partnership with Durham students, forming a ‘student-led, cross university, national campaign.’
‘Mitie’s role in running campus services, such as security, directly endangers students,’ reads Mitie Must Fall’s briefing document, published on their Instagram page.
‘The same executive staff that work for a company running prisons and detention centres – particularly with Mitie’s track record – should not have any role on campus. Particularly considering the racist and violent culture endemic to Mitie, and the presence of refugee/asylum seekers on campus.’
A full list of demands are published on the campaign group’s Instagram account @mitiemustfall.
Editor’s note: information correct at time of writing