Alta Gracia Could Be Model for Apparel Industry

Posted By James Parks On October 27, 2010 @ 4:40 pm In Global Action | Comments Disabled


Alta Gracia [1], the first apparel factory in the developing world to pay a living wage, is a big step toward setting a new standard for apparel manufacturing around the world. But consumers must  be energized to buy the new brand in large numbers before other manufacturers will follow suit, several experts said today.

The market is growing for the Alta Gracia products, mainly college logo T-shirts and sweatshirts, but is limited to college bookstores. Much more needs to be done to convince sympathetic groups like unions, human rights organizations and state and local governments to insist on buying only apparel made by workers who earn a living wage.

Speaking at a forum at Georgetown University Law School this morning, John Kline, a Georgetown professor and author of  a new research report, “Alta Gracia: Branding Decent Work Conditions,” said the most immediate impact of the living wage is workers’ sense of respect and a new confidence they can achieve some of their dreams because they have a decent wage.

The factory and brand, Alta Gracia, is named after the town and is owned by Spartanburg, S.C.-based Knights Apparel, the leading supplier of college-logo apparel to U.S. universities, according to the Collegiate Licensing Co. Alta Gracia pays the 120 workers about three-and-a-half times the average pay of the country’s apparel workers—and allows workers to join a union without interference.

Joseph Bozich, CEO of Knights Apparel, worked closely for two years with the Worker Rights Consortium [2] (WRC) to make sure the factory treated workers fairly. The workers formed a union and held the founding meeting in June 2010. The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center [3] spent many years working on international anti-sweatshop campaigns and training organizers from the Dominican Federation of Export Workers (FEDOTRAZONAS), many of whom are now leaders at the newly formed Alta Gracia union.

What has been accomplished at the Alta Gracia factory so far is bringing hope to a very poor community on the economic edge, said Cathy Feingold, AFL-CIO’s International Affairs director. Feingold, who helped train the Alta Gracia workers, said the workers’ living wage lets workers in other industries know they can set the bar higher and ask for more as well.

But Feingold and Scott Nova, executive director of WRC, made it clear that there is a lot of work ahead before the model of Alta Gracia is accepted in the apparel industry. The pressure on contractors to keep prices low is tremendous, Nova said. Knights Apparel, which is privately owned, agreed to accept lower profits and to make a long-term commitment to buy the factory’s products. Other companies will not make those commitments unless they see a surge in consumer support for living-wage apparel.  

Nova and Robert Stumberg of the Georgetown Law Center  pointed out that the idea of holding apparel manufacturers to a living wage standard may be the best way to end sweatshop conditions in the industry. But both warned there are many issues to be resolved first, such as how to set a standard that would apply to different countries with differing wage structures.

The forum was sponsored by Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor [4].


Consumers must buy the product before other manufacturers adopt the model. Training workers within the Dominican Federation of Export Workers was essential to ensuring they became leaders of the unions. Problem: how to set a standard that would apply to different countries with differing wage structures.

1 note

2008 Human Rights Report: Dominican Republic Section 6 Worker Rights b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining is legal and must be used in firms in which a union has gained the support of an absolute majority of the workers. Few companies had collective bargaining pacts, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) considered the requirements for such pacts to be excessive and an impediment to collective bargaining.

The law establishes a system of labor courts for dealing with disputes. While cases made their way through the labor courts, the process was often long and cases remained pending for several years. The most recent study by the Foundation for Institutionalism and Justice, a local NGO, showed that the average case resolution time was 15.3 months in courts of first instance and 16.4 months in appeals court.

Many participants reported that nonbinding mediation facilitated by the Ministry of Labor was the most effective method for resolving worker-company disputes.

The law forbidding companies from firing union organizers or members was enforced inconsistently, and penalties were insufficient to deter employers from violating worker rights. There were reports of harassment and intimidation by employers in an effort to prevent union activity, especially in the free trade zones (FTZs). The Dominican Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers (FEDOTRAZONAS) reported continued incidents of antiunion activity at the TOS Dominicana plant in Bonao. The Ministry of Labor facilitated talks between the plant owners and employees, and in August the parties signed a three-year collective bargaining agreement following nearly one year of negotiation.

Local NGOs reported that companies routinely attempted to create “yellow” or company-backed unions in an effort to dilute the worker union’s power.

The International Trade Union Congress reported an agricultural export company in the north of the country still refused to recognize a union following a protracted fight ultimately requiring the workers to seek and receive legal recognition of the union. According to FEDOTRAZONAS, the company continued its antiunion campaign and discriminated openly against union members, who were forced to work overtime and were refused water and transport in and outside the fields. FEDOTRAZONAS also reported that Haitian workers at the company were being paid below the minimum wage and that all employees were required to take a blood test allegedly related to HIV. The Ministry of Labor was investigating these claims at year’s end.

The Labor Code applies in the 57 established FTZs, which employed approximately 155,000 workers. According to the National Council of Labor Unions, unions were active in only eight companies in the FTZs, and only four unions had established collective bargaining rights. Workplace regulations and their enforcement in the FTZs did not differ from those in the country at large, although working conditions were sometimes better and the pay was occasionally higher. Mandatory overtime was a common practice.

There were reports of widespread covert intimidation by employers in the FTZs to prevent union activity. Unions in the FTZs reported that their members hesitated to discuss union activity at work, even during break time, for fear of losing their jobs. Unions accused some FTZ companies of discharging workers who attempted to organize unions. The majority of the unions in the FTZs were affiliated with the National Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers or with FEDOTRAZONAS. FEDOTRAZONAS estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the workers in the FTZs were unionized. Many of the major manufacturers in the FTZs had voluntary codes of conduct that included worker rights protection clauses generally consistent with the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. However, workers were not always aware of such codes or of the principles they contained.


Collective bargaining is legal but with majority support from workers within the company. Labor courts are available for complaints but cases spend 15.3 months in courts of first instance and 16.4 months in appeals court. Companies forbidden from hiring union organizers but law is not enforced. The Labor Code applies in the 57 established FTZs, which employed approximately 155,000 workers. Unions were only active in 8 of these zones. FEDOTRAZONAS estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the workers in the FTZs were unionized. Workers were not always aware of codes or the principles the companies were “supposed to abide by.”


Dominican Republic Factory 6
WRC Factory Investigation

Gildan Dortex

Factory Name:
Gildan Dortex

Dominican Republic

Key Buyers:
Gildan Dortex is owned and operated by Gildan Activewear, a provider of blank T-shirts. The following university licensees are known to use Gildan products as of January 2011: Bruml Management, Inc.; Creative Trademark; Dodger Industries, Inc.; Emmett 247 LLC; Harper Arts, LLC; Kactus Jock; Lakeshirts, Inc.; MJ Soffe LLC; MV Sport; New Agenda; Ruppshirts, Inc.; St. Louis Sportswear, T-Shirt International Inc.; Top Line Screen Printing & Embroidery; Vantage Custom Classics.

The WRC launched an investigation of Gildan Dortex, in Guerra, Dominican Republic, in August 2009 in response to a worker complaint. The ensuing investigation documented serious violations of freedom of association including repeated threats and intimidation against workers who were forming a union affiliated to the federation FEDOTRAZONAS. After an initial response including some remediation measures, factory management proceeded to recognize and negotiate a contract with a different union, while concealing these actions from outside stakeholders and the factory’s workforce. Investigations by the Fundacion Laboral Dominicana in cooperation with the WRC and the Fair Labor Association revealed that this union did not represent a majority of the workers and that its claim to do so was fraudulent. Gildan has acknowledged that it erred in not verifying the union’s majority, but has not engaged in all of the remediation measures it pledged to pursue. In November 2010, Gildan fired a number of workers in retaliation for coming together to speak with management regarding a dispute over legally guaranteed vacation days.

As of this writing, Gildan workers are still represented by an illegitimate union and Gildan is refusing to cooperate with a verification of the membership status of the FEDOTRAZONAS union. Gildan has not made a good faith effort to extract itself from this illegitimate contract and minimize the effect of that contract on workers. The WRC issued its Interim Report on January 20, 2011 indicating that “Gildan is… in violation of university codes of conduct and will remain in violation until it restores the associational rights of its employees.”
Updated January 20, 2011

Read More:
WRC Interim Report - January 20, 2011
Informe Provisional (en español) - 20 de enero del 2011
Fundación Laboral Dominicana Review of the Negotiation of a Collective Agreement - April 8, 2010