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Living Wage: Above and Beyond Anti-Sweatshop Codes

John Kline

October 13, 2010 – Research by a Georgetown professor shows that a factory selling collegiate apparel at the university’s Follett-run bookstore is successfully offering a decent living for workers in the Dominican Republic.

Georgetown has been in the forefront of the anti-sweatshop movement and has a strict code for factories making apparel with its logo.

But John Kline, a Walsh School of Foreign Service professor who researched the Alta Gracia factory, says it goes “above and beyond” those standards by providing a “living wage.”

Worker Welfare

The living wage in the Dominican Republic comes out to a mere $497 a month in American dollars versus the minimum wage of $148 a month.
“Other brands have to meet the code,” Kline says, “but the living wage better meets basic needs and reflects work with dignity.”

Follett and Barnes & Noble are selling the apparel T-shirts and sweatshirts at universities across the country.

Over the summer, Kline researched the Alta Gracia factory started by Knights Apparel, the leading supplier of collegiate apparel to American universities.

Protecting Human Rights

After visiting the factory, Kline was impressed by the results.

“Women at the factory were finally able to feed all their children,” says Kline. “Workers bought cinder blocks to replace ill-fitting wooden boards for their one-room houses and parents could buy clothes needed to send their children to school.”

Kline serves with other Georgetown faculty, students and university leaders on Georgetown’s Licensing Oversight Committee. The committee relies on Workers Rights Consortium to conduct investigations of working conditions in apparel factories worldwide.

“The Alta Gracia model featuring living wages for workers and high standards of worker benefits and protections is a potential game-changer in the apparel industries, especially in the collegiate markets,” says LaMarr Billups, Georgetown’s assistant vice president for business policy planning. “The project’s focus on worker and human rights in the workplace are a reflection of the Catholic and Jesuit traditions that guide Georgetown’s business practices and labor policies.”

Support Essential

Kline cautions that the factory’s future depends on people buying Alta Gracia apparel at Georgetown and all over the country.

“My question is if there is enough enthusiasm about supporting a factory where they’ve made great achievements versus protesting against factories that don’t live up to standards,” Kline says.

He plans to do follow-up research over the next year.

“Longer range I’d like to evaluate what is necessary to replicate this kind of factory in terms of location, upfront investment, market demand and the factory’s broader impact.”

Download Kline’s report. (PDF, 1.7 MB)

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