Who is the USU in bed with?

A critical look at the corporations involved in Welcome Week 2022

Up to 20,000 students attended the first day of Welcome Week: the University’s biggest marketing event of the year. Central to the week’s festivities are a number of corporate partnerships with the University of Sydney Union (USU). Historically, some of these collaborations have been ethically questionable. In 2019, Commonwealth Bank and Westpac both occupied prominent stalls – two institutions implicated in the Banking Royal Commission and who have loaned a combined $4.5 billion to fossil fuel companies since 2016.

Since then, the USU has cleaned up its act when it comes to corporate partnerships. Nevertheless, this year’s line-up is not without complications.

Hungry Panda

Hungry Panda is a UK-based food delivery company accused of firing two delivery drivers in February 2021 who protested changes to their pay. According to the drivers, who were reinstated after launching claims with the Fair Work Commission, Hungry Panda cut their pay – then following the protest – blocked them from the app.

In a NSW Parliamentary Select Committee hearing into safety in the gig economy, a Hungry Panda delivery rider claimed he earned $150-$200 for a 12-hour workday. Another driver claimed his pay dropped from $9 to as low as $3 per delivery.

The Committee also heard Hungry Panda did not provide road safety training to its drivers. Xiajun Chen was killed while working for Hungry Panda after colliding with a bus in Sydney in September 2020. The company did not immediately report the fatality to SafeWork NSW as required by law. As Chen was hired as an independent contractor, his family was not entitled to workers’ compensation.

DoorDash and Deliveroo were also involved in Welcome Week and have similarly been the subject of controversy due to drivers’ working conditions.

Gillette (Proctor & Gamble) and Weis Bar (Unilever)

Gillette is owned by Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Weis Bar is owned by Unilever. A 2016 report by Amnesty International claimed it was “highly likely” P&G and Unilever’s sourcing of palm oil was linked to child and forced labour in Indonesia. 

P&G and Unilever have also both been criticised for selling racist skin-whitening products in Asia and Africa. P&G offers melatonin-inhibiting creams under the Olay brand while Unilever sells Glow and Lovely, previously named Fair and Lovely.

In 2016, Unilever’s major Indian subsidiary reached a settlement agreement with workers over allegations of mercury poisoning at a manufacturing plant. According to the workers’ union, 45 employees and 18 children died as a result of the poisoning.

Mojo Kombucha (Coca Cola)

Mojo Kombucha was acquired by The Coca-Cola Company in 2018. Coca-Cola uses approximately 305 billion litres of water every year, often taken from local water sources. The company has been at the centre of major water usage controversies in drought-stricken regions within India. In 2004, a Coca-Cola bottling plant was shut down in Kerala after complaints of a decline in water quality and quantity in the area. In 2017, the region of Tamil Nadu boycotted Coca-Cola products due to groundwater depletion affecting local farmers.

Coca-Cola produces over 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging yearly and is the single largest plastic polluter in the world. According to a 2017 report by Greenpeace, the company has lobbied against recycling and plastic deposit schemes throughout Europe.

In 2015, Coca-Cola donated $1.5 million to non-profit Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), who promoted the idea that obesity was primarily caused by a lack of physical exercise rather than dietary issues. GEBN was dissolved later that year following public concerns over its independence.  

Optus

Optus has been ordered by the Federal Court to pay $7.9 million in fines since 2018 for misleading its customers about transitioning to the NBN. Optus pressured more than 100,000 customers into upgrading to Optus’ NBN Broadband by implying their service was soon to be cut off. The telecommunications company was also ordered to pay more than $10 million for misleading customers who were billed after unknowingly purchasing third-party content.

NOVA 96.9 (Illyria Pty Ltd)

NOVA 96.9 is owned by Illyria Pty Ltd – Lachlan Murdoch’s investment firm. Lachlan is the Co-Chairman of NewsCorp and son of Rupert Murdoch.

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The brands involved in Welcome Week were Love BUDS, Mojo Kombucha, Red Bull, V Energy, Gillette, Optus, Benefits Cosmetics, NOVA 96.9, Weis Bars, SCAPE Living, Contiki, Next Level Paintball, Unions NSW, Sydney Trains, I Rock Entertainment, Google Chromebook, Let’s Go Surfing, Skydive Australia, DoorDash, Sennheiser, Red Cross, Deliveroo and Hungry Panda. 

Honi understands that the student board was not involved in the organisation of corporate partnerships for Welcome Week.

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