Alta Gracia Starts “living wage” Movement
By: Christian Ernst – News Editor
Every student buys a college sweatshirt or t-shirt or some apparel during their tenure at school, with a variety of choices. Now, one company, Alta Gracia, who produces the Knight’s Apparel, is separating themselves from the field with a humanitarian movement, and will be available for purchase at the Monarch Bookstore in the near future.
“We believe that doing good can be good business, that they’re not mutually exclusive,” said Joe Bozich, CEO of Knight’s Apparel.
Alta Gracia is a company that locates its factories in Villa Altagracia, a town in the Dominican Republic. While many companies pay workers in similar factories small wages and house them in harsh conditions, Alta Gracia pays a living wage, allows workers to form a union, and provides a healthy and clean workplace.
“I think the thing that really makes Alta Gracia different, and not just another apparel brand, is that we believe it can truly be a pathway out of poverty, and life changing… and not just for the individual but for their families as well,” said Bozich.
“We believe that this is the first apparel brand in the world …that is compensating employees not based upon what is required of us by law, but based upon calculating and going in and doing a living wages study”, said Bozich. “We asked the question how much money would an employees have to receive to provide their family with all of life’ s necessities; food, clothing, water, housing, transportation, health care and just as important of all those things provide them wages and benfits that allow them to provide an education for their children.”
Bozich quantified his company’s ideals, stating his is the first company to do more than what is required in terms of living wages.
“In this community where we’ve done the living wage study its about 300% higher than the minimum wage,” said Bozich.
The workers of Alta Gracia have a voice in the company, through a worker’s union.
“Alta Gracia project respects our rights as workers, and this isn’t true in other factories,” said Martiza Vargas, the president of the union and worker at the Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic. “All of us in the factory feel like it’s our own, because the factory gives us an opportunity to be an important part of the factory.”
While many living conditions in the Dominican Republic can be dismal, Vargas stated hers have vastly improved since the Alta Gracia project began.
“My life has change quite a bit since I started working there,” said Vargas. She cited a larger home that provides each of her fourchildren their own space, as well as three bathrooms, as one of the major upgrades. Before, her and her family lived in a tight, confined home with one bathroom that they shared with their neighbors.
“The respect for our union has come from a long history of struggle both support from U.S. organizations and also a union that used to exist,” said Vargas. “Alta Gracia is part a history of workers coming together to fight for something better for themselves and their coworkers.”
“The company has really showed that it is different and this is a big change, because this is really the first company that has opened with this vision about unions,” said Vargas.
Students are a major part of the movement, according to Teresa Cheng, International Campaigns Coordinators for United Students Against Sweatshops.
“Students can educate other students and the campus community about why Alta Gracia is an important choice to support and when buying college apparel choosing Alta Gracia over other college apparel that is not made in conditions where workers are able to have their union recognized and receive living wages,” said Cheng.
“Starting this plan… has really been a once in a career opportunity for me. We are excited about the possibilities and really hopeful that the university community will support this and make this sustainable,” said Donnie Hodge, COO of Knight’s Apparel.
In the first week of sales at Duke University, 600 pieces were sold, approaching $11,000 in sales, according to Jim Wilkerson, Duke University’s director of trademark licensing and store operations.
Photo from: altagraciaapperal.com