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Student Worker Participation Committee prepares next round of recommendations

| Friday, March 2, 2018

Two years after being formed by executive vice president John Affleck-Graves in 2013, the Worker Participation Committee (WPC) made its first round of recommendations in its review of the University’s licensing codes of conduct, specifically regarding the University’s prohibition on the production of Notre Dame–licensed products in China. The main recommendation was to conduct a pilot program to see if the University could exert its influence within selected Chinese factories to achieve and sustain certain worker rights.  

Nearly three years after those recommendations, the University is producing licensed products in China. Both the WPC and its student counterpart, the Student Worker Participation Committee (SWPC), are preparing to make another round of recommendations.

“The last big thing was, basically, it’s been decided that we’re going to produce in China. Now the question has become ‘How do we ensure that the factories where we’re producing meet certain standards?’” SWPC member and junior Adrian Mark Lore said. Editor’s note: Lore is a former Associate Scene Editor for The Observer.

Junior Jackie Brebeck, SWPC secretary, said Notre Dame’s latest big change from the administration was acknowledging a willingness to back out from contracts with individual factories at the end of last semester.

“There are these certain minimum requirements that are already in place,” she said. “The administration has basically confirmed that, if those companies don’t meet those requirements, they’re willing to say now ‘We’re just not going to produce with you.’”

Lore and Brebeck said one of the major recommendations the SWPC was working on was the formation of a consortium with other colleges and universities.

“There are other schools that have already been very conscious in this and are, honestly, kind of ahead of where our University is, so in our recommendation we say that Notre Dame should become a leader in this, especially because of Catholic social teaching,” Brebeck said.

If the recommendation for the consortium is accepted, the formation of the group could start as soon as “late, late spring,” with a conference that would then begin the consortium, Lore said. The consortium itself would then likely start in the fall.

The SWPC is dedicated to ensuring the University would remain a leader of the consortium.

“We think that Notre Dame has a really rigid commitment to their values … I’d like to see the University keep leading the consortium,” Lore said.

Lore said Notre Dame’s business makes up a mere percentage of work for most of these factories. Pushing too hard at once could result in the factories deciding it isn’t worth it to do business with the University, and in favor of business that “demands less.”  

“We have to be conscious of how much power we have in changing what the companies do,” Lore said.

The consortium, Brebeck said, would help address this problem by cooperating with more of the institutions with which these factories are working.

“I feel like we are pushing to go big,” she said. “I want to go after the schools with the biggest contracts — they have the most influence, and we need to include them to be successful.”

The other major recommendation of the SWPC is determining which standards are the most important for the factories to meet, Lore said.

The University’s work with Chinese factories requires auditing to see which worker rights standards are being met and to make changes to improve those ratings.

“China might not have certain labor laws, but we demand that they meet these standards, so those auditing companies, on our behalf, would go and check that they’re doing all that,” Lore said.

“So what we’re doing right now … is framing what we want that system to look like: What are our top priorities when it comes to what the companies need to meet and how often do we want to audit? Do we want to work with other universities? Right now we’re drafting a recommendation to the administration of what we would like to see.”

There are limitations to what these factories can accomplish at once, and some things cannot be implemented. For instance, Lore noted that unions weren’t “legally possible” in some areas, and thus aren’t a reasonable requirement to ask of factories.

“Obviously, we want more than to ask them to meet the bare minimum, but in order to work well, you need to do it in stages,” Brebeck said. “While it’d be ideal to ask for more, it’s more realistic to ask stage-by-stage. I think we’re asking for change at a reasonable pace.”

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About Megan Valley

Megan Valley is one of the Associate News Editors for The Observer. A junior majoring in English and the Program of Liberal Studies, she hails from Flushing, MI and lives in Flaherty Hall.

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