October 27 2008
International Conference at ILR
The international conference Breaking Down Chinese Walls: The Changing Faces of Labor & Employment in China brought more than 80 professors, students and labor activists from around the world to the ILR School on September 26-28. The goal of the conference was to discuss new and original research based on field studies, and to establish a sustainable network of China labor scholars who would work together in the future on collaborative research projects. The conference was funded by the ILR School, the Waks Family Fund for International Education & Research, the Pierce Memorial Fund, the Center for China studies, the University of Michigan, and the Jeffrey S. Lehman Fund for Scholarly Exchange with China.
ILR Professor Sarosh Kuruvilla, Professor Ching Kwan Lee of the University of California, and Professor Mary Gallagher of the University of Michigan were the organizers of the event. Together they will edit a book comprising of selected papers from the conference. During the three-day event, students and labor scholars participated in seven sessions with topics ranging from labor markets, laws and migration to CSR and International HR.
The first session of the conference focused on institutional background. Following an overview paper on the informalization of the labor market in China by Professor Albert Park (Oxford University), Professor Mary Gallagher discussed labor law reform in China with reference to the government's use of mass media to frame workers' understanding of the law. Professor Mark Frazier discussed the changing pension rights in China. Bill Taylor, Professor at the City University of Hong Kong, highlighted the state of labor law enforcement in China, while Dr. Patrick McDermott provided an overview of the labor contract arbitration system.
The afternoon session, chaired by Professor Marc Blecher of Oberlin College, concentrated on labor activism, workers and unions. Professors CK Lee (UCLA) and Shen Yuan (Tsinghua University) delved into the complexities of the relationship between labor activism and NGOs in China, while Mingwei Liu (Cornell) talked about the emerging variation in organizing strategies within the Chinese labor movement. Professor Wu Jieh Min (National Tsinghua University –Taiwan) presented a detailed paper on the variation in migrant labor rights across China. Mr. Jian Qiao of the China Institute of Industrial Relations addressed the gathering, providing a succinct account of the changes in Chinese labor relations and the challenges for the future.
The day concluded with a reception during which the conference sponsor, Mr. Jay Waks, addressed the gathering. Mr. Waks noted, "Just as I have reflected fondly upon the impact of my international labor education of some 40 years ago, your contributions to China workplace studies will be the subject of reflections, hopefully fond reflections, some 40 years from today." See the full text of remarks by Jay W. Waks, Reflections on International Labor Education and the Lessons for China.
The second day of the conference started with an extended session on labor relations in different industries in China, moderated by Professor CK Lee. Professor Anita Chan (Australian National University) discussed the changing patterns of labor relations in a Chinese liquor factory, while Professor Kun-chin Lin (National University of Singapore) presented his study of China’s oil industry. This was followed by presentations on the automobile industry (Lu Zhang of Johns Hopkins), the informal sector (Amy Hanser of the University of British Columbia) and the cosmetics industry (Professor Stephen Frenkel of the University of New South Wales).
The second panel focused entirely on migrant workers and was presented by graduate students from around the world.The student presenters included Aarlon Halegua from Harvard University, Kuei-min Chang from Columbia University, Julia Chuang from Berkeley, Sarah Swider from Akron University and John Zinda from the University of Wisconsin. This panel was followed by a session on corporate social responsibility in China. Dmitri Kessler of the Ethical Trading Initiative presented his research on "Business Struggles with Worker Participation and its Consequences for the Role of NGOs," while Edgar Chen of University of Massachusetts-Amherst argued that CSR had a minimal impact within Chinese factories.
The final day of the conference started with a session on the introduction of labor law in China. Noted labor law scholar, Professor Baohua Dong of East China University of Politics and Law, enlightened the audience with his interpretation of Chinese labor law changes, along with a presentation by Chia-Chen Chou of Cornell. This was followed by a mixed panel of presentations on Chinese women workers (Professor Fang Lee Cooke of Manchester), labor process in factories (Thomas Peng from National Tsinghua), minimum wages (Jing Wang from Toronto) and the logistics industry (Professor David Bensman from Rutgers).
The organizers were pleased with the results of the conference. Professor Kuruvilla stated that this was the largest international collection of China labor scholars to be assembled in one location. Professor Lee said that the papers represented cutting-edge research, while Professor Mary Gallagher thought that the conference volume would make an excellent book on labor in China.
To view photo gallery from the conference click here.
Written by Prof Sarosh Kuruvilla and Ana Stojanovic, MILR'09