Notre Dame-licensed products in China
Letter to the Editor | Monday, January 26, 2015
Many times this week, I’ve asked a friend or classmate to share their opinion on the potential expansion of producing Notre Dame-licensed products in China. Almost every time I was met with the response of “Huh? I didn’t know about that.” Most of my fellow students deleted the emails sent from the Worker Participation Committee almost immediately after receiving them — and I don’t blame them. The panel hosted for this issue Jan. 20 had about six undergraduate Notre Dame students in attendance, including myself. Clearly, mass emails are not the way to catch the attention of the student body. The administration has done a poor job in engaging the student body on the issue of whether or not to manufacture in China, which cuts to the very heart of Notre Dame’s identity as a Catholic institution. By failing to effectively engage students in this debate, the Worker Participation Committee and the administration does great injustice to the student body.
This issue dates back to 1999, when University President Emeritus Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy created a task force to advise whether or not Notre Dame should allow the manufacture of licensed products in countries that do not allow workers the right to organize and freely associate. This list includes China, which does not allow the creation of independent unions, the right to collectively bargain or the ability for workers to strike. The right to organize is considered by the Catholic Church to be a fundamental human right, essential for the dignity of workers. This task force advised halting production of any Notre Dame licensed goods in countries that do not allow the right to organize. From that date on, the University has not manufactured any products with our logo or name on them in countries that do not uphold this fundamental right.
In late December 2014, the student body was informed (in a haphazard way) that since summer 2013, there has been a committee discussing the creation of a pilot program for the manufacturing of licensed goods in China. This committee includes only two students: former student body president Alex Coccia and current student body president Lauren Vidal. While these two leaders are worthy representatives of the student body, this still left the vast majority of us in the dark about a debate that is crucial to Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. As leaders of a University, the Worker Participation Committee should know that sending out emails, only shortly before the decision deadline, is not enough time to engage the student body population, especially by sending out long emails with vague subject lines. The committee could have done a number of things to more effectively inform students, including utilizing social media, creating informational videos or distributing fact sheets. The lack of planning in engaging the student body prevents active dialogue in the Notre Dame community.
I am not advocating for one side of the debate or the other. I am simply stating that this is a valuable debate in which we all need to be actively and deeply engaged in. On one hand, by manufacturing in China, Notre Dame could be violating principles of Catholic social justice teaching by implicitly supporting a government that does not legally allow its citizens to form private unions or collectively bargain. It could be additionally argued that Notre Dame could do more good by giving this substantial amount of business and opportunity to manufacturers in third world countries that legally allow their citizens to organize. On the other hand, some argue Notre Dame should not shut out China from its business practices entirely. While this decision probably will not change the Chinese constitution, it can massively improve the lives of the Chinese workers within the factories Notre Dame contracts. The Worker Participation Committee vetted many factories in China and found several that meet its criteria of providing healthy, safe working conditions. Obviously, this is a complex issue that requires serious thought from every party involved — including the student body.
In the coming weeks, I encourage my fellow students to attend the panel discussions and open forums the Worker Participation Committee will be hosting to discern their stance on whether we should pursue a pilot-manufacturing program in China. If we are to take the phrase “We are ND” seriously, we should be involved in all aspects of the University — especially the ones challenging our Catholic identity. I also encourage the Notre Dame administration and the Worker Participation Committee to make a greater effort to reach out to the student body. After the committee reaches a decision, they should continue effective dialogue with the entire Notre Dame community about our role as a Catholic institution in protecting the rights of workers. I sincerely hope this debate brings about a stronger and more united Notre Dame family rooted in the ideals of Catholic social teaching.
Madeline InglisJuniorBreen-Phillips HallJan. 23
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.