Do we take American values with us overseas?

By Emily Feng

Duke, I am happy to say, has been a leader nationally among universities for pushing for fair working conditions for its workers. Duke currently pays a living wage—a wage, above the minimum wage, that can sustain a decent standard of living—for all of its employees, nonacademic or otherwise. In 1997, Duke was the first university that created a licensing code of conduct that demanded its apparel be manufactured in safe and hygienic working conditions. In 2010, Duke was the first university to begin contracting with the Dominican Republic brand Alta Gracia, which provides its female employees with a living wage. More recently, students were again able to persuade Duke to sign on to a licensing policy change that would require any apparel companies in Bangladesh to abide by the Accord on Building and Fire Safety, created in response to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in October 2012.


The same commitment to fair working conditions has not been made clear at when constructing the Duke Kunshan University campus. Kunshan is home to a massive Foxconn factory and remains a popular destination for Chinese migrant labor. Adrienne Harreveld’s excellent Chronicle column documents the paucity of information on this issue.


Regardless of where you fall on the issue, some important ethical questions accompanying Duke’s big China project going forward are:


  1. As an institution that is meant to promote “liberal arts values” in its Chinese and international students when it opens, does DKU also have an obligation to also uphold the same labor principles its mother institution, Duke?
  2. Relatedly, to what extent is DKU an extension of Duke? What social or educational principles here at Duke would we like to see at DKU as well?


DKU is an enormous opportunity to change not just the way education is dispensed and taught in China, but also for Duke to act as a socially conscious institution in one of the world’s largest autocracies. I have only excitement and hope that DKU will succeed, but DKU needs to decide whether or not it will accept the responsibility their position affords.