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Panel discusses best practices for ensuring labor rights in University supply chain

| Friday, September 20, 2019

Members of the Notre Dame community discussed how colleges and universities can set the standard for fair labor practices in a panel titled “From Sweatshops to Sweating Audits” in the Hesburgh and Joyce Dining Rooms of the Morris Inn Thursday.

The panel was preceded by a presentation from Student Worker Participation Committee members senior Anna Scartz, Armani Porter (’18), junior Eleanor Wood and junior Emily Yeager, exploring the role of the committee at Notre Dame and sharing how other institutions can join in forming similar groups.

The panel featured four speakers: Kevin Cassidy, director of the United States Office of the International Labor Organization; Notre Dame professor of business ethics Georges Enderle; Jason Roberts, CEO of consulting company Sumerra; and Miriam Rodriguez, an auditor with the Fair Labor Association.

Both events were hosted by the Committee on Trademark Licensing and Human Rights, established in 2018 to ensure the ethical manufacture of Notre Dame-licensed products.

The panelists began by sharing their recommendations for how universities can better promote labor rights from their suppliers. Roberts said he suggested schools approach companies on a united front.

“[If] universities could have joint opinions or views on what is expected in their supply chain, it’s much easier for licensees and factories to meet those expectations,” he said. 

Former University director of licensing Mike Low — attending as an audience member — said even though most colleges have written policies protecting labor rights, the problem lies in their enforcement.

“I think when we all got started in this process, everybody was quick to adopt the code of conduct,” he said. “So we had a code of conduct, but nobody enforced it, nobody knew how to enforce it. So I doubt there is a university in the United States that doesn’t have procurement regulations that say ‘No forced labor,’ etc., etc., but nobody is checking it, and it’s not good enough anymore. To have a policy in place, you have to do the work, and reward those that comply.”

Roberts said colleges and universities ought to be in constant conversation about how to best push for labor rights.

“What are the best practices other people use, what are the things that you’re doing that you see are successful?” he asked. “What are the downsides?”

Enderle also said the University should take bigger steps to ensure ethical manufacturing. While he lauded Notre Dame’s concern for fair labor, Enderle said the University has a long way to go.

“I think the project that we have started here is a very good beginning,” Enderle said. “But it’s really a beginning, no more.”

While change is necessary on the political and corporate levels, Cassidy said he feels individual commitment to ethical products is also important.

“This is something that you really have to do for yourself,” he said. “When you as a consumer [are] willing to step back and realize, ‘It’s my spending habits contributing more or hurting less.’”

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

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