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Worker Participation Committee issues official recommendations

| Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Committee Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves speaks  during a previous forum at McKenna Auditorium on Jan. 26.Annmarie Soller

University Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves speaks
during a previous forum at McKenna Auditorium on Jan. 26.

For the first time since 2001, products licensed by Notre Dame may soon bear the label “Made in China.” The University’s Worker Participation Committee announced its official recommendation to conduct two one-year pilot programs in Chinese manufacturing factories at a public forum Monday.

University Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves, a member of the Worker Participation Committee, said the committee formulated its finalized set of recommendations after two years of careful research and deliberation.

According to the website of the Office of the Executive Vice President, University President Emeritus Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy appointed a Task Force on Anti-Sweatshop Initiatives in 1999. As a result of the task force’s research and recommendations, in 2001 the University released a list of 11 countries, including China, in which manufacturers were prohibited from producing Notre Dame-licensed products.

In 2013, Affleck-Graves appointed a committee to review Notre Dame’s Licensing Code of Conducts due to an increasing frequency of interactions between the University and China, according to the website of the Office of the Executive Vice President.

The committee chose Verité, a non-profit organization, as its partner during the process of assessing worker participation in Chinese factories, Affleck-Graves said.

“We chose China because it was a country that we didn’t produce in at the moment, and it was a country where we could get some cooperation from some of our manufacturers,” Affleck-Graves said. “Although they were making do in other countries, [our manufacturers] were very eager for us to consider China.”

He said Verité designed a set of criteria with which it would assess six Chinese factories based upon workers’ rights to freedom of participation. Verité then puts the factories into subcategories based upon their levels of worker participation.

The assessment concluded two of the six factories met the standards that the University would require for it to allow for production, and some committee members visited the Chinese factories to meet with the workers and managers after receiving Verité’s assessment, he said.

“We like the Verité process,” Affleck-Graves said. “We like the people at Verité. But we felt it was important that we also visit the factories so we could get a sense of whether Verité’s assessment correctly or adequately reflected the views we would have of the conditions in those factories.”

Affleck-Graves said the Workers Participation Committee recommends conducting a year-long pilot program in the two Chinese manufacturing plants that received good assessments from Verité. The companies would be reassessed regularly over the course of the year.

“This is to determine whether workers’ rights have improved to the extent that factories meet and, more importantly, can sustain over time and under review a standard of performance acceptable to the University of Notre Dame,” Affleck-Graves said.

Affleck-Graves said the committee also offers three additional recommendations based off of feedback from a public forum held in January. The committee selected eight factories currently manufacturing products licensed by Notre Dame in Bangladesh, India, El Salvador and Guatemala to assess and compare to the two factories in China.

“People asked how we can compare these working conditions in China with other factories … and encouraged us to go to other countries where we commonly do production and use the same assessment tool to see if standards are being met,” Affleck-Graves said.

Affleck-Graves said the committee will also use the pilot programs to broaden their assessment criteria to include more issues than worker participation.

“There are lots of other issues that are very important in both China and the rest of the world,” Affleck-Graves said. “Things regarding safety, health conditions … what the proposal means is to take the assessment that Verité has done and broaden it to cover all these other issues as well.”

The committee’s fourth recommendation is to continue to provide regular opportunities to update the campus community and listen to feedback while the pilot programs are implemented, he said.

The Worker Participation Committee is exploring the possibility of assessing all factories producing Notre Dame-licensed products, Affleck-Graves said. He estimated 400 to 500 factories currently produce Notre Dame-licensed products and evaluating each one could take several years.

“We’re hoping to take this pilot program and assist the feasibility of … a factory centric policy,” Affleck-Graves said. “We have an instrument that we can take into any factory that allows us to do a rigorous assessment of that factory and on the basis of that assessment to determine whether its appropriate or not to manufacture Notre Dame logo material in that factory.”

Affleck-Graves said the committee hopes to provide a model for other universities and companies to follow.

“One of Notre Dame’s missions is to be a source for good in the world,” Affleck-Graves said. “There’s a huge amount of manufacturing that goes on in China whether we like it or not. So we can stay out of it and we can influence people by not being in it … but it doesn’t make any difference to those people in China.”

Affleck-Graves said University President Fr. John Jenkins reviewed the recommendations before Monday’s forum and said he is comfortable with them. He will likely approve them in the coming weeks, according to Affleck-Graves, after which the recommendations can be enacted.

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, the Observer's current Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's a former Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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