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Senate reviews impact of Worker Participation Committee

| Thursday, February 4, 2016

Student Senate met Wednesday evening to listen to Bryan Ricketts, student body president, present on the history and current impact of the Worker Participation Committee.

“The genesis of it actually started back in the 1990s. Fr. Malloy had us review our licensing procedures and basically said that we do not want to be doing sweatshop manufacturing,” Ricketts said.

The decision resulted in the fact that Notre Dame would not manufacture any branded products in countries without freedom of association, Ricketts said.

“What that came down to was a policy we call freedom of association — colloquially, it’s been called the ‘China policy,’ because that was the largest of the countries that it prohibited us from manufacturing in,” Ricketts said. “Freedom of association means that you are allowed to form unions — in your company, in your profession — and bargain for labor rights.”

In 2013, Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves led the movement to re-evaluate the licensing policies started during Fr. Malloy’s term, such as evaluating the moral standards the University should be upholding, Ricketts said.

“No other university adopted a policy like this, over the 15 years that we had it,” Ricketts said. “We are not making anyone’s lives better in these countries by not being there. It’s a completely neutral policy.” 

To advise Affleck-Graves, the Worker Participation Committee was formed, with a fluctuating membership of 20 to 30 people, including faculty, staff and students, Ricketts said.

According to Ricketts, the committee partnered with Verité, a firm that specializes in protecting labor rights, and developed 71 questions that encompass wholesome criteria for labor standards, from basic needs to aspirational needs, such as worker safety.

Verité has traveled to China on behalf of Notre Dame to evaluate, through on-site and off-site visits to interview workers, six different factories that produce Notre Dame-branded goods, Ricketts said. After the design process, Verité works with licensers that produce the goods overseas in approved factories that Notre Dame does not directly interact with, Ricketts said. 

Alex Coccia and Lauren Vidal, past student body presidents, had collaborated with this committee and traveled to China in September 2014 with a smaller group to survey four out of the six factories Verité had originally visited, Ricketts said. After their visit, they brought their preliminary findings to the campus community, he said.

“We sent Verité to two companies in four different countries where we already produce Notre Dame-branded goods and had them evaluate the companies with the same standards that we are using in China,” Ricketts said.

Other goals include looking over the licensing code and increasing campus participation in the discussion, including forming a student subcommittee. According to Ricketts, the subcommittee will represent interested campus groups and academic departments.

“A student subcommittee like this, who will be directly reporting to the executive vice president. … Nothing like this has ever been done before,” Ricketts said.

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