Students form subcommittee for Worker Participation Committee
Selena Ponio | Tuesday, March 22, 2016
As a member of both the Fair Labor Association and the Worker Rights Consortium, Notre Dame prohibits its licensed products from being manufactured in countries that lack a legal right for workers to form independent labor unions of their choice. In 2013, University Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves appointed the Worker Participation 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. Representatives from several student organizations came together in February to form a Student Worker Participation Committee (SWPC).
The “Freedom of Association” policy has been enforced since 2001 and has identified 11 countries as ineligible for production of university products. In May of 2015, the Worker Participation Committee wrote a “Review of the Freedom of Association Policy,” which assessed factories in China and other countries to better understand the status of worker participation.
One of the recommendations outlined in this proposal stated “the University provide a forum for continuing campus participation and feedback, including the establishment of a student subcommittee to the Worker Participation Committee.” Skyler Hughes, senior and representative for the Progressive Student Alliance in SWPC, said this committee was officially formed by the end of December and by January all the involved parties had come together.
“In the original recommendation from John Affleck-Graves … we consider it part of our mission to make sure that the student body stays informed on the issue and that we provide forums for the students at the university to give feedback to us,” Hughes said.
Hughes said there are currently 15 members of the student subcommittee and three of these members then sit in on the full Worker Participation Committee.
“Our main goal is to make sure there’s a strong student voice on the issue and that we gather views of the Notre Dame student body as best as we can and represent those to the committee,” Hughes said.
SWPC’s Facebook page describes the group as “the student committee advising Notre Dame’s Worker Participation Committee on the changes to the factory licensing policy in China and other countries.”
“This is one of the first times that the University has given students such a significant voice on a major change in university policy and because of that it’s our responsibility as students to really take advantage of this opportunity to show that we as students are capable of helping out with university policy and should be consulted in the future on university matters,” Hughes said.
Madeline Inglis, senior and member of SWPC said in an email that the student subcommittee provides the perfect opportunity for students and administrators to collaborate on university matters.
“Students should get involved with the SWPC because it’s one of the only ways on campus to interact directly with the administration and get student voices heard on such a high level,” Inglis said. “It also gives interested students further insight into this crucial issue, which has implications for both corporate social responsibility and Catholic Social Teaching.”
Inglis said one of the main goals of the committee is to make sure full worker participation in the form of unions is present in all factories in which Notre Dame licensees manufacture goods.
“The initial emphasis was in China because while China has one state-run union, it does not have the diversity of choice other countries offer, and so the original WPC decided to end manufacturing in China,” Inglis said. “In addition to revisiting manufacturing in China through the pilot program, the WPC and the SWPC are also examining the extent to which worker participation exists in countries which allow unionization in name but potentially not in practice, such as El Salvador, Guatemala, India and Bangladesh.”
Inglis said she hopes the SWPC sets a precedent for future student groups to become involved in administrative decisions.
“I’ve been really involved with this issue since the pilot program was announced a little over a year ago,” Inglis said. “I think it’s so critical that students are informed about major policy changes the administration is considering and actually have an active voice in whether those changes should go into effect.”
Hughes said his interest in the organization lies in its global effects.
“The policy in itself is something that could have a real effect on the workers who make Notre Dame licensed goods, so this is our change to have a real effect on the world and lives on people that we never meet and we should care about,” Hughes said.