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Dominican Workers Laud Georgetown Support of Living Wage Factory

Alta Gracia Project: Continuing Georgetown

Knights Apparel CEO Joe Bozich, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, and Alta Garcia workers Maritza Vargas and Elba Nurys Olivo Pichardo, hold up a Georgetown T-shirt during the Alta Gracia Project event.

September 7, 2011 – Two workers from a living-wage apparel factory in the Dominican Republic told a Georgetown audience Tuesday night that the collegiate clothing sold in university bookstores – including Georgetown’s – has allowed them a path out of poverty.

“Our work is dignified work and our salaries allow our families to have a dignified life,” said worker Maritza Vargas at the “Alta Gracia Project: Continuing Georgetown’s Leadership” event Sept. 6. “We do our work with a lot of love and we think about the people who will be wearing our clothes.”

The Alta Gracia project is a brand of college apparel that pays its 133 workers more than 330 percent of the minimum wage in Villa Altagracia, a municipality in the Cristóbal province of the Dominican Republic.

Leading Role

Georgetown, which has long supported workers’ rights and anti-sweatshop licensing policies, was the first to agree to public disclosure of factory locations producing collegiate apparel in 1999.

“Alta Gracia is about helping people free themselves from poverty,” said Joe Bozich, CEO of Knights Apparel, which started the living wage factory. “Through a simple decision of buying a T-shirt, you have the ability to change someone’s life.”

The university is now in the top 10 schools for sales of Alta Gracia apparel.

Higher Workplace Standards

John Kline, a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, studied the early phase of Alta Gracia, culminating in a 2010 report called Alta Gracia: Branding Decent Work Conditions.

Kline, along with Edward Soule, an associate professor of the McDonough School of Business, is now conducting follow-up research.

Georgetown President John J. DeGioia noted that the research is part of the reflective engagement initiative, which encourages collaborative faculty research into areas that could be influential to public policy and serve the public good.

“By recognizing and supporting the Alta Gracia Factory, we have been able to require substantially higher workplace standards – including guaranteeing all workers a living wage, full respect of labor rights, and exceptional health and safety standards,” DeGioia said.

A Dream Come True

Elba Nurys Olivo Pichardo, the other worker at the event, noted that she had been unemployed since the last factory in the town had shut its doors in 2007.

“When Alta Gracia came, it was like a dream come true,” she said.

Employment at Alta Gracia has allowed her to adequately provide for her two daughters and finish construction of her home.

Making Change

Panelists LaMarr Billups, assistant vice president of business policy planning, Soule and Kline fielded questions from the audience.

They also talked about the potential for Alta Gracia to be a new model in the apparel industry and steps the Georgetown community can take to continue its leadership on the issue.

“The importance of Alta Gracia is that change comes really hard in any industry...but here is the potential for a model,” Soule said. “The global importance of [Alta Gracia] is showing people what’s possible – and that’s what makes change.”

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