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Labor Café facilitates discussion of ‘China Policy’

| Monday, January 26, 2015

Students, professors, administrators and concerned individuals gathered Friday for the Higgins Labor Café conversation entitled “The Notre Dame Licensing Codes of Conduct,” a continuation of the ongoing conversation surrounding the possibility of allowing certain Chinese factories to begin producing official Notre Dame merchandise.

The Labor Café, a biweekly event hosted by the Higgins Labor Studies Program of the Center of Social Concerns (CSC), looks to start “casual yet critical conversation on contemporary issues related to work, equity and social justice,” according to the program’s website.

Daniel Graff, director of the Higgins Labor Studies program, said the discussion attracted a wide array of backgrounds, and all who wished to participate in the conversation were free to do so.

“There are folks [here] from the CSC, folks from the licensing program, folks on the workers’ rights board, from the panels and those simply interested,” Graff said.

The discussion weighed the pros and cons of beginning production in China, particularly because the Chinese government does not legally guarantee workers the right to freely associate. Because of that, China does not, nor likely will have, any workers’ unions by the time an agreement can be arranged, Barbara Fick, associate professor of law, said.

“You’re not going to get a trade union in China because they’re not going to allow an independent trade union that’s separate from the government because that’s going to pose a threat to the government,” Fick said. 

On the other hand, China is one of the fastest growing producers in the world, Notre Dame law school 2014 graduate Xin He said. China has a huge amount of investment and production in the textile industry so Notre Dame cannot completely boycott China. At least some part of the electronics in Notre Dame-licensed products must be made in China, He said.

Since a complete boycott of Chinese products is already impossible, He said an argument could be made that it may be a beneficial to use Notre Dame’s buying power for good.

“Notre Dame has leverage on China, not if we don’t engage, but Notre Dame has leverage on Chinese companies if they do engage,” He said.

Both sides of the discussion wish to see Notre Dame acting true to its character and as a “powerful source for good in the world,” University Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves said.

Student participation was also a topic of discussion. Bill Purcell, associate director of Catholic social tradition and practice at the CSC, asked the final question to open the Labor Café’s initial discussion, “Do students care?”

Many of those who attended the conversation expressed disappointment that there were not more students involved in the Worker Participation Committee and the events to present their findings. Those in attendance questioned whether this was due to students’ lack of knowledge of the panels and discussions.

After the meeting, student body president Lauren Vidal held a short brainstorming session with present students about to how to improve communication on this issue with the student body.

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