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ND cancels contract with Taco Bell

Claire Heininger | Thursday, August 26, 2004

Acting on allegations brought to light by a stream of student protests last spring, Notre Dame terminated its contract with local Taco Bell restaurants over the summer.

The University decided not to renew the athletic department’s $50,000 yearly sponsorship agreement because of concerns raised by the Progressive Student Alliance, Notre Dame spokesman Matt Storin said Monday. The students, who argued that the chain’s tomato suppliers in Florida treated migrant workers unfairly, “deserve a lot of credit for bringing up these issues, doing the research and carrying on the discussion in a very responsible and studied way,” Storin said.

He added that while Taco Bell lost its official sponsorship of a postgame football radio show, it can still advertise in game programs.

The contract first drew campus attention in early April, when the PSA wrote letters to University President Edward Malloy publicizing a series of student hunger strikes. Tension escalated when approximately 30 students approached Malloy’s office in person April 14, prompting Vice President and General Counsel Carol Kaesebier – who had been in contact with both the PSA and Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum! Brands Inc., since the fall – to make several follow-up calls to Taco Bell.

When the University did not receive specific and timely answers, Notre Dame issued a public statement April 27 that postponed plans to renew the contract and expand it to $75,000 by this fall until Taco Bell delivered a satisfactory response.

Although Notre Dame did not set an explicit deadline for Taco Bell’s response, the University’s concerns were not sufficiently resolved in time to renew the sponsorship for this year, Storin said.

Despite the various strains and delays, Storin characterized the episode as a constructive dialogue between the students and the administration.

“It may not have moved as quickly as we would like,” he said. “But steady progress was made.”

PSA leader Melody Gonzalez, who played a vocal role in the protests and kept abreast of the situation over the summer through e-mails exchanged with Kaesebier, expressed satisfaction on the part of her fellow demonstrators.

“It’s really exciting because I feel that so many people really believed in this cause,” Gonzalez said. “It’s good to know it wasn’t all in vain.”

Viewing the decision as proof that the University had exercised Catholic principles in its business relationships, Gonzalez offered further praise.

“I think that as a Catholic institution, teaching us the values of workers’ rights and the right to a living wage, it was only expected for Notre Dame to take this action,” she said. “It would have been disappointing if they hadn’t because it would be contradictory to our reputation.”