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Solidarity to create a great university and world

Matthew Caponigro | Wednesday, February 27, 2013

“Faith. It’s not something you can see or touch … or is it? It’s been said, there’s blood in these bricks: the blood of thousands of men and women whose faith in something bigger than themselves built a great Catholic university. And it’s that same faith that’s building a better world today. So yes, faith is something you can see and touch. And at Notre Dame, faith is also something that touches you. That’s faith. This is Notre Dame.”
I just listened to these words in a video on our University website. Indeed, throughout the past three and a half years I have witnessed the faith of countless students, professors and faculty members as they participated in service-learning projects, traveled overseas to learn about the lives of others and shared their time and resources with our local community. It is the “disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many” and the “sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice” that distinguish Notre Dame as a great Catholic university.
About a week ago, I was touched when a middle-aged man and woman from Indonesia came to Notre Dame to tell the story of how their families and community suffered when the factory they worked for closed unexpectedly. The woman shared how desperate her family became in a country where there is no insurance option for workers like her and her husband when they suddenly lost their job. Without receiving the necessary severance pay, this woman’s situation became grave very quickly. Before long, they were forced to move into a smaller apartment with only one room to live in – even to use the bathroom in. Without the money to pay for rice, beans or any other nutritional staples, this woman and her family survived on Cassava leaves, which they were allowed to pick off the tree owned by their landlord. Hungry and desperate, this mother of three felt ashamed and worried for her children. She was further devastated when a friend of hers – who had also become desperate after losing her job and receiving no severance – killed her daughter and then threw herself in front of a moving vehicle because she wanted “to be free” from her suffering.
At the end of this summer, I traveled abroad and met with some union leaders who work for clothing factories in Haiti. After hearing about the hardships the workers face in order to survive, I asked one man what the most difficult aspect of the situation was. He answered me, “I continue to send my children to school and barely scrape up the money to cover the cost of their uniform, materials etc. But when my kids tell me that they are hungry, I have nothing to give them.”
In the case of the Indonesian workers, their factory owner fled with very small profit because he was losing money under the pressure of a subcontractor who has a deal with Adidas, as well as other prominent collegiate apparel corporations. Adidas is the only one that has refused to compensate these workers at this point. Moreover, the workers argue Adidas is largely responsible for the push to maximize profit at low cost that in many cases leads subcontracting companies to pressure factory owners to the point where they flee with the little money they have left. The situation at factories in Haiti as well as in Central American countries, Bangladesh and a few in Europe is similar. Many factories make apparel that is sold by Adidas for large profit while the workers’ salaries and benefits are scant.
The Indonesian workers came all the way to Notre Dame to ask us to join them in a cry of solidarity: to ask Notre Dame to put Adidas on notice until they pay the Indonesian workers severance. These workers as well as the ones I met in Haiti present us with a common message: Their suffering is deeply connected to ours. If we can put time, money and resources into service initiatives, surely we can raise our voices to help achieve justice in a deal we have such a significant part in. The majority of clothing worn at our sporting events and parties is often made by the unfair sweat of another person’s labor, as the Indonesian workers reminded me. Their stories are directly connected to our stories. If our story is one of faith, we cannot ignore the unjust agreement we participate in as consumers of clothing produced by people who are regarded as no better than “machines to create more profit at lower costs.”
Whether in the name of God, human solidarity or Notre Dame herself, we can join together to respond to this situation, demonstrating faith in something greater than ourselves: that we can help restore and protect the human dignity of workers who suffer from a contract we participate in. Such is the faith that will build a better world today. Faith is something we must see and touch, and inevitably it will touch others. Right now, we are being touched by faith and called to respond. Our fellow human beings are crying for our help As a student body, we have the power to demonstrate the authentic faith of Notre Dame by responding to their plea in solidarity. If we hold Adidas accountable for paying these workers severance, others will recognize that our faith can be seen and touched. “That’s faith. This is Notre Dame.”

Matthew Caponigro is a sophomore studying physics. He can be reached at cdurkin@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.