In March nearly 200 University of St. Thomas Justice and Peace Studies (JPST) and Opus College of Business (OCB) students gathered for an interdisciplinary dialogue about how they – as business persons, community activists and consumers – could promote responsible business that cultivates a more just and peaceful world.
The conversation centered around the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, which led to the deaths of over 1,000 people and injured thousands more. The majority of the victims were female garment workers sewing clothing for popular American brands.
Much of the blame for the tragedy was directed at business: at the building owner who allegedly ordered employees to work that day despite cracks appearing in the building’s foundation the day before, at multinational corporations that pay for cheap labor working in unsafe factories and at consumers who buy clothes without considering who made them in what conditions.
Students analyzed the “ripple effect” between industry and society and how their distinct fields (peace studies and business) both make significant contributions to understanding the situation and possible solutions going forward more comprehensively. Many commented that the ability to make change for the common good “starts with me” but also requires dialogue with others who bring different lenses and support deeper understanding.
The event and JPST-OCB faculty exchanges were planned in preparation for UST’s participation in and sponsorship of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum (NPPF), an annual conference honoring Nobel laureates and other dignitaries to inspire peacemaking. One of the keynote speakers of the 2015 NPPF was former United States President Jimmy Carter. He asserted that the “most serious human rights violation on Earth” was “discrimination against women and girls” – as demonstrated by the Rana Plaza story.
The event was co-sponsored by JPST and OCB and facilitated by Mike Klein of JPST with faculty collaborators Amy Finnegan (JPST), Tim Ketcher (OCB), Christopher Michaelson (OCB), Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer (JPST), Gerald Schlabach (THEO/JPST), Jon Seltzer (OCB), and Sheneeta White (OCB), NPPF intern and UST student Edmond Ngeh, and several other student facilitators.