University to launch pilot program in Chinese factories
Observer Staff Report | Friday, October 30, 2015
Notre Dame is launching a pilot program that will allow selected factories in China to manufacture University-licensed products, with the goal of determining if they can meet and maintain worker treatment standards, University President Fr. John Jenkins said in an email to students late Wednesday night.
In 2013, University Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves appointed a Worker Participation Committee (WPC) to review Notre Dame’s Licensing Code of Conduct due to an increasing frequency of interactions between the University and China, according to the website of the Office of the Executive Vice President.
After two years of research and deliberation, the WPC issued a set of recommended changes to the University’s existing licensing policy. Jenkins approved these recommendations and directed the pilot program to begin, according to the email.
According to Jenkin’s email, the University implemented a policy in 2001 that prohibited 11 countries, including China, from producing Notre Dame-licensed products.
“The University’s decision at that time was bold, principled and widely applauded,” Jenkins said in the email. “It was hoped that Notre Dame’s action would encourage other institutions to follow, and that collectively pressure could be put on countries to reform their labor laws.”
Jenkins said that since no other universities have adopted similar policies, and Notre Dame’s action had no discernable influence on the practices of nations that deny freedom of association, the WPC was created to reevaluate the University’s policy.
“While still holding to the principle that freedom of association ought to be allowed and independent unions permitted, and recognizing that in the People’s Republic of China such rights are denied at the level of national laws and practices, the WPC considered whether there might be other criteria we should employ focused on the policies and practices of particular factories,” the email said.
The committee worked with Verite, an internationally-recognized non-profit organization, to assess six selected Chinese factories using a list of 71 criteria. They proposed four specific recommendations, shared with the Notre Dame community at a public forum in September.
“First, that Notre Dame undertake a pilot program with factories that met our standards to see if they sustain a standard of performance acceptable to Notre Dame, and we can confidently verify such performance,” the email said.
In addition, the University will work with factories in the area that fell short of their standards to see “if they can improve to an acceptable level.”
Notre Dame will also begin evaluating similar factories in other countries that currently manufacture Notre Dame-licensed products.
“Even with the formal, legal right to form and join an independent union, worker participation may be below what is acceptable, and the University can use its leverage to encourage improvement. Moreover, the review of factories in different countries could establish a useful benchmark as we deliberate about acceptable standards.”
The committee also recommended the University review and, as necessary, revise the current Licensing Code of Conduct to include a “a richer understanding of worker participation and, in general, that it reflects the best practices and the principles of Catholic social teaching.”
Finally, the committee suggested the formation of a student subcommittee, in addition to continuing campus participation in the conversation.
In response to calls to reject the recommendations, Jenkins analyzed the morality of the policy, concluding that Notre Dame’s actions would not support or sustain any form of injustice.
“Participation allows us to affirm those factories that have high standards of worker participation, and to encourage other companies to meet these standards,” the email said. “Whether this in fact occurs is something about which a pilot program will give us valuable information.”
According to the email, the pilot program ultimately seeks to promote the full set of workers’ rights recognized by Catholic social teaching at a global level.
“I emphasize that this change in policy in no way signals a lessening of Notre Dame’s commitment to the full set of workers’ rights recognized by Catholic social teaching,” Jenkins said. “On the contrary, with the WPC, we are trying to develop a policy that is as effective as it can be in furthering the recognition of those rights around the world.”