Notre Dame adopts new sweatshop policy
SOUTH BEND, Ind.-As one of the leading universities in the movement against sweatshop labor, Notre Dame recently adopted three recommendations made by the university's Task Force on Anti-sweatshop Initiatives.
The university now prohibits the manufacturing of Notre Dame products in countries that do not recognize the legal rights of workers to form labors. It also created a model factory monitoring program and it will demand full public disclosure of manufacturing sites by all its licensees.
Each recommendation builds upon the initial structure put in place in March 1999 to monitor production of Notre Dame licensed products and apparel.
Bill Hoye, chairperson of the task force, appreciates the actions of the university and its president Father Edward Malloy.
"Obviously, we're really pleased that Father Malloy has adopted the recommendations of the task force," he said. "We think that they'll make a real and substantial contribution to improving the conditions of the workers that make Notre Dame licensed products around the world."
The original idea behind the task force was to make a statement in response to the increasing public awareness and opposition to what is known as sweatshop labor. The statement declared the university's position on the issue and began to set forth a code of conduct among the manufacturers and to put in place a monitoring system to ensure adherence to the code.
"The next big issue is just the physical implementation of the plan: looking at the monitoring, gathering lists of what our vendors are and who our licensees are. Once we have full disclosure of factories' locations, we can send out the monitoring groups," said student body president Micah Murphy, who served on the task force.
The changes in the monitoring system will include the involvement of representatives of non-governmental groups like labor leaders, human rights activists and church leaders.
"(The changes) will add an element of credibility and integrity to the monitoring process," said Hoye.
"One of the key points is that when you have a code, no matter how good the code is, you have to have a monitoring mechanism. (The task force) certainly addressed that very well," said Father Oliver Williams, a university management professor.
A new addition to the task force's efforts requires the right for workers to organize labor unions.
"The right to unionize is something that everyone should have, and I think that we should try to help people get that right," said Williams.
The university strengthened its policy for including this right, stating that it will not maintain business with any countries or companies unwilling to commit to providing workers with this right. One such country is China.
The unique recommendation holds a specific stipulation against China. While most labor organizations and university task forces mandate the right to organize, no group has gone so far as to cut relations with non-compliant parties.
"The right to organize ensures that the workers who make our products will have a legal right to form unions, to collectively bargain with management and increase their ability to improve their wages, hours and working conditions," Hoye said. "It gives them additional power, additional leverage, which is vitally important if they're going to improve their wages and working conditions."
"They all have special country exceptions for places like China that say as long as the licensees work with the Chinese government to improve conditions, they can go ahead and manufacture products in China," Hoye added. "The problem with that from the task force's perspective is that that exception swallows the whole rule, and we don't think that individual licensees are likely to have much influence over the Chinese government, especially when the United States government hasn't been able to affect positive change on this issue."
Williams considers China differently, taking into account that one-fourth of the world's population resides there. Fair labor conditions should be attained in cooperation with everyone and the United States should work with the Chinese government to improve its labor laws, Williams said.
The companies in China that contract with universities will be forced out of the country in order to maintain their business relations. That will result in massive job loss for the Chinese, he said.
But for Williams, the implementation of a living wage is the most important aspect of creating and enforcing fair labor conditions. Williams defined a living wage as enough money to be able to provide food and moderate shelter for self and family while working as much as a 10-hour day.
"The notion of the living wage is something that must be addressed, and so I think we have to continue to pressure [countries like China] to find a way to get that into their code and to monitor it. That's a big gap that isn't addressed yet," he said of the task force's new recommendations.
Murphy stated that the group is still researching the living wage and will address it in the future.
"Our business is not done in making this latest recommendation to Father Malloy, but it's a good launching ground," Murphy said.