Sweatshop task force visits site
By MAGGY TINUCCI
Five members of Notre Dame's Anti-sweatshop Task Force visited El Salvador this summer in an effort to gain first-hand knowledge about sweatshops.
"We went to get a better handle on the conditions in the factories. It's important for members of the Task Force to see this. We don't want to be naive," said Bill Hoye, associate vice president and counsel for the University and task force chair.
The group who went to El Salvador included administrators, staff members, and students.
"The diversity of the group gave different perspectives to the issues," Hoye said. "It was an eye-opening experience."
The groups toured apparel factories, interviewed factory workers and discussed factory monitoring concepts with Catholic Church, labor and human rights activists in order to get a better picture of the "model factory," according to Hoye.
University president Father Edward Malloy created the Anti-sweatshop Task Force in March to advise him on further measures the University should take to identify and rectify any abuses of workers' rights at factories that produce Notre Dame-licensed products.
One responsibility of the task force was to set up a monitoring system for Notre Dame's licenses, in order to "put some teeth" into the code of conduct, according to Maria Cannalis, president of the Graduate Student Union.
Since March, PricewaterhouseCoopers has served as the sole monitor for the University.
The trip allowed inclusion of human rights activists and church officials in the monitoring system.
"We went down there with the idea of implementing a monitoring system where human rights workers would come in before and after PricewaterhouseCoopers," Cannalis said. "Now we think they should go together to assimilate what is going on in a better way. They have to see things in the same light. There is a great deal of skepticism between factory owners and human rights workers. Because of this, we are encouraging a parallel audit. This would allow for the most credibility."
After the journey, Task Force leaders started to consider widening the range of groups involved in their efforts.
"From the experience of the trip, we want to explore whether there is a way to include non-governmental organizations (NGOs) into our group as a possible recommendation to Father Malloy," Hoye said.
The group did not tour any factory where Notre Dame apparel is made and were barred entry from the free-trade zone in San Salvador, where the main abuses occur, according to Cannalis. They did visit three factories outside of the zone, two of which were owned by the mother of a Notre Dame graduate and spoke with members of a model monitoring panel set up to address workers' concerns at the Mandarin apparel factory, located in the free-trade zone.
"I didn't see any abuses in the factories, but they were not representative by any stretch of the imagination," said Cannalis. "Still, it's nice to know some are upright."
PricewaterhouseCoopers monitors factories all over the world for a range of companies, including Disney, Hoye said.
"Basically, they are measuring the factory against our code of conduct," he said.
Specifically, they look at the age of workers to determine whether child labor is being utilized, how many hours per week workers are required to work, how the wages are calculated and the factory's compliance with legal and environmental stipulations.
PricewaterhouseCoopers also looks at the health and safety situations in the factories to see if there are medically trained staffers, fire escapes and extinguishers and whether the factory offers protection against job-related injury.
Also included on the checklist is how the employees are disciplined and whether they are offered any sort of recourse and documentation against unfair discipline.
The last factory the group visited was not flustered by its presence.
"The director said that everyone wants to come through the factory," Cannalis. "They are getting used to the monitoring system."
Notre Dame has 200 apparel licensees, each with about 12 factories.
Notre Dame has revised their code with the factories to include monitoring.
"We can walk into the factories at any time we want," Cannalis said. "They won't be happy but it's in their best public interest to let us in."
"There is both random and risk-assessment monitoring. With 2,400 factories, we need to determine where the risk is the greatest," Hoye said.
The monitors engage in a two-day examination of the factory, interviewing 25 randomly selected employees.
"Our trip showed us there is an essential need for monitoring," Cannalis said. "The factories are not going to regulate themselves to the extent they need to be. There needs to be parallel monitoring to ensure it is all enforced."
The group to El Salvador included Hoye; Dennis Moore, director of Public Relations and Information; Jim Paladino, associate director of the Center for Social Concerns; Cannalis; and Lee Tavis, professor of finance. Father Robert Pelton, director emeritus of Notre Dame's Institute for Pastoral and Social Ministry and an expert in Latin American Church affairs accompanied the group and helped to organize its itinerary.
In other Task Force news:
u Carol Kaesebier, University vice president and general counsel, whose work on the sweatshop issue predates the Task Force, was elected co-chair of the University Task Force of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a national organization which originated in the White House as the Clinton administration's effort of address the sweatshop issue.
The FLA is in its formative stages and Kaesebier's election will give her a prominent voice in advocating the views of universities to the FLA's industry and government members.
u Notre Dame and PricewaterhouseCoopers representatives are engaged in Notre Dame's first audit of a manufacturing facility, a Champion Products factory.
All News Stories for Thursday, September 2, 1999