Symposium evaluates sweatshop labor
By MAGGY TINUCCI
The University's symposium on sweatshops began Monday night, highlighting Notre Dame's leadership role in the national movement.
"This is a unique opportunity for the Notre Dame community to take a closer look at the sweatshop issue in an academic setting," said Bill Hoye, University Counsel and task force chair.
"The debate and conversation in this class will allow the task force to make more informed, representative recommendations to [University president] Father [Edward] Malloy," said Hoye.
Comprised of six lectures, the symposium, which can be taken for class credit, will look at the complex issues facing the University's task force as it aims to eliminate the use of sweatshop labor in the manufacture of Notre Dame apparel.
The task force looks at the ethical, moral and religious issues the sweatshop question raises, especially at a Catholic university such as Notre Dame.
"Each university must advise and identify its own moral code. But is a code sufficient? How can you operationalize your moral code in the business world?" asked Hoye.
The University's task force has been charged with answering these questions.
Carol Kaesebier, Notre Dame's general counsel and co-chair of the FLA's university counsel, has been a leader in the sweatshop issue since 1996, when the Clinton administration formed the Fair Labor Association to inform consumers and protect workers worldwide.
"They realized the very strong relationship universities had with their licensees would help to bring factories to the table," said Kaesebier.
Notre Dame, an FLA member, was the first university to adopt an independent moral code regarding sweatshops. That code, signed in early 1997 as a contract between Notre Dame and its business partners, became a model for other universities.
As a way to improve the code's enforceability, the task force solicited discussion from priests, labor leaders and human rights leaders. It then hired an outside monitoring entity.
"PricewaterhouseCoopers was a first step to monitor the code's compliance," Hoye said.
They are able to do both random audit inspections and specific visits at the University's request.
"It gives us the freedom to direct when and where to determine where the risk is the greatest, as well as helping to improve the enforcement capability of our code," said Hoye.
Although Notre Dame follows its own monitoring processes through PricewaterhouseCoopers, a main responsibility of the FLA is to decide which factories serving its 121 member universities will be monitored.
"The companies suggest factories to be monitored, but it is up to the FLA to decide. Non-governmental organizations, companies and universities help to make this decision, based on risk and what their experience in those areas has been," Kaesebier said.
The FLA has a code of conduct, "a minimum of what participating universities must adopt," according to Kaesebier.
Notre Dame may consider amending its code after a trip to El Salvador this summer where representatives obtained firsthand information about factory conditions. The group realized that including human rights organizations and church leaders in the PricewaterhouseCoopers monitoring system would provide greater credibility, Hoye said.
"They would help ensure us the factories are upholding the code," he explained.
The task force is considering the living wage issue, primarily asking whether Notre Dame should require its factories to provide a living wage for its employees, said Hoye.
"International law doesn't set a living wage," said Hoye. Notre Dame's code, however requires its factories to match or exceed the current minimum wage in the area.
Another issue facing the task force is public disclosure of Notre Dame's manufacturing sites.
"Some believe disclosure will add pressure to the factories to comply with the codes because of the possibility of spontaneous visits, but others question whether it would have any impact on improving workers' lives," said Hoye.
Making sure workers have the right to form unions is the last issue of task force debate.
"This depends on whether local law affords workers a legal right to organize," explained Hoye. Notre Dame's code currently does not include this.
Notre Dame has approximately 200 licenses, which translates to thousands of factories that need to be monitored.
The symposium continues Sept. 27 with "Catholic Teaching and Sweatshops."
All News Stories for Tuesday, September 14, 1999