Cornell University

International Programs

117 Ives Hall, 607-254-7255


February 14 2012

Phoebe Yu, BSILR '12


Writing an honor's thesis on China's 2008 Labor Contract Law has been one of the most transformative parts of my education at the ILR School. I first got the idea to write about Labor Contract Law and how it affects multi-national companies during a summer internship in 2010 in Hangzhou, China, where coverage of labor protests in the nearby coastal province of Guangdong dominated the media. There were signs of the emergence of independent unions at multi-national companies, a rare occurrence for China since the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) controls the labor landscape. I was further encouraged to write the thesis in Professor Compa's International Labor Law class, where we talked about labor practices in various developing countries and their compliance with international labor conventions.

So it was perhaps a stroke of good luck when Professor Eli Friedman, an expert on the Chinese labor movement and a recent addition to ILR's faculty, agreed to be my thesis advisor.  Given that he co-authored some of the titles in my bibliography, Professor Friedman was a tremendous source of guidance and support in the research process.

I was also very fortunate to receive the ILR International Travel Grant, which enabled me to travel to Beijing during winter 2011 to conduct field research. I met with and interviewed human resources representatives and senior executives at multi-national companies, scholars at Peking and Renmin University, and labor lawyers at prominent Chinese law firms specializing in contract administration. Two notable people I was extremely privileged to meet with were a pre-eminent labor expert who served on the drafting committee of the very Labor Contract Law I was studying and a high-level government representative in the legislative department, both of whom provided incredible insight into the implementation of the law. 

The semi-structured interviews I conducted shed light on unexpected results about how MNCs were affected by the law. More importantly, time spent in the Capital Library and the National Library yielded Chinese-language surveys and research on the Labor Contract Law that are not currently available online to the Western world. These valuable statistics – regional surveys of MNCs and case studies of specific companies – will provide a comprehensive picture of the Chinese labor landscape since 2008. 

Many universities today claim to provide a world-class learning experience to their students. I cannot think of a better embodiment of a world-class education than what is offered in the ILR School at Cornell University. Whether it is in a lecture, seminar, or speaker series, ILR teaches us about the world of work with an international perspective and a dynamic outlook into the future. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have been given at the ILR School and will always carry with me the lessons I learned and the knowledge I gained here.