SASKATCHEWAN – Muslim students at the University of Regina have voiced concerns after the discovery that the food service company at their campus has advertised non-halal food as halal, violating business ethics and student trust.
“We can’t trust this organization ever again,” Muhammad Abdul Rehman, the President of the Muslim Students’ Association at the University of Regina, told CBC on February 19.
He explained that this incident should be viewed as a concern for all the university’s students regardless of their religions because it is a matter of trust and ethics.
“It’s about every single person on campus; it’s about every single person that buys something from this company because it’s misleading to give someone a product that’s labeled something else and is something else,” the student added.
Abdul Rehman said that he was contacted last Thursday by three of his fellow students who had eaten at Global Village on campus, a food service location that sometimes offers halal options.
A dish had been labeled as halal, but the students happened to ask the kitchen staff and chef to double-check if the meat was prepared as halal.
“There was a mixed message from basically every single person and at the very end, they said no, it’s not halal,” Abdul Rehman said.
“Everyone I spoke to that basically went through this, they were hurt and they were angry because to them the label is just enough,” he expressed.
A similar incident had occurred during the fall semester, but the students “had accepted it as a one-time occurrence that happened due to negligence,” he said.
The repetition of the same problem spiked fears that the students may have unknowingly eaten non-halal meat more than once.
“God knows what type of business practices are taking place, if this is something that is happening on a regular basis [or] is this something that happened one time?” he fears.
He noted Chartwells, the food service provider contracted by the university, is part of multinational company Compass Group that serves around four billion meals a year.
The University of Regina confirmed it was aware of the two incidences of non-halal meat being served as halal.
In the fall, the university and Chartwells agreed on a few practices to make sure the issue doesn’t come up again.
The university also wrote last week to the company, stating it was clear that the agreed-upon practices hadn’t been followed.
“This isn’t simply a matter of mislabeling; it’s disrespectful to our Muslim students, faculty, and staff who rely on having halal meat as part of their University food service,” wrote John Smith, associate vice-president of Student Affairs at the University of Regina, in a letter to the company.
“It is also a reputational risk for the University of Regina.”
Stephanie Baxter, director of communications with Compass Group Canada, acknowledged that on February 15, a non-halal chicken was accidentally served on the buffet.
“The company takes this matter seriously, and offered its apologies to staff and students who were impacted,” she claimed.
“We are currently conducting a thorough investigation and are working with the university to implement additional measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Abdul Rehman said he’s glad to see the university taking steps to meet with Chartwells and address student concerns.
“The problem we’re trying to tackle is a gross violation, of moral and business ethics that everyone should be adhering to in this country,” he said.