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