Caribbean Workers Benefit from Bookstore Clothing Sales
December 12, 2011 – Georgetown’s college bookstore ranks in the top 10 sellers of collegiate apparel that gives workers at a Dominican Republic factory the chance to earn a living wage.
The university has been in the forefront of the anti-sweatshop movement and has a strict code for factories making apparel with its logo.
But the sales of Alta Gracia factory clothing – mostly T-shirts and sweatshirts at universities across the country – go beyond that movement.
Path out of Poverty
The living wage for Alta Gracia workers is more than $540 a month in American dollars versus the Dominican Republic’s current minimum wage of roughly $154 a month.
“The difference is huge,” says John Kline, a professor of international business diplomacy at the School of Foreign Service. “Rather than squeezing workers with sub-poverty wages, the Alta Gracia factory provides a pathway out of poverty for its workers and their families.”
Kline and Edward Soule, an associate professor at the McDonough School of Business, just finished a research progress report – “Alta Gracia: Work with a Salario Digno” – on the living wage factory.
The Spanish phrase translates to “a wage with dignity,” and also refers to better labor-management relations and workplace conditions.
In the summer of 2010, Kline researched the Alta Gracia factory started by Knights Apparel, the leading supplier of collegiate apparel to American universities.
“The brand has made remarkable progress in its first 18 months and is now sold in over 400 U.S. college bookstores,” Kline says. “However, volume is not yet sufficient to make the factory profitable, given the higher cost of its living wage commitment.”
The main challenge is to secure more display space in bookstores to generate increased sales, Kline says.
Most college bookstores are owned by two chains – Follett (which owns Georgetown’s store) and Barnes & Noble.
A Better Life
Included in the new report are individual worker vignettes, including one about Ana, who had to work for four years at a factory far enough away that she had to leave her two young children with her mother.
Sometimes she spent as many as 15 days without seeing her children.
After starting a job at Alta Gracia, Ana saw them every day and used her higher wages to provide them with a better education. She also hopes to return to school and become a teacher one day.
“There are many more than the 10 stories in the report of how Alta Gracia is fulfilling the brand’s logo: Changing Lives One Shirt at a Time.” Kline says.
The professor serves with other Georgetown faculty, students and university leaders on Georgetown’s Licensing Oversight Committee. The committee relies on the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) to conduct investigations of working conditions in apparel factories worldwide.
The WRC also verifies the higher labor standards for Alta Gracia apparel. At the Alta Gracia factory, the emphasis goes beyond simply avoiding the exploitation of sweatshop operations.
“There’s a significant difference between products that meet a ‘not a sweatshop’ standard and the higher, life-changing policies in the Alta Gracia factory,” Kline says. “The holiday season is a good time for us all to consider the broader impact of gifts we buy – how they affect people who make the products as well as the ones who will receive them.”