For more than a decade, activists urged college-logo clothing manufacturers to end poverty wages and labor rights violations in their factories. Campus-based organizations like United Students Against Sweatshops pressured companies to allow monitoring by the labor rights watchdog Worker Rights Consortium (WRC).
These campaigns won a major breakthrough when Alta Gracia Apparel adopted a new business model designed to provide high standards for fair-labor conditions. The Alta Gracia factory, owned by American company Knights Apparel, opened in the Dominican Republic in August 2010 to produce college-logo clothing in cooperation with the local garment workers’ union.
Alta Gracia exceeds industry norms by paying a living wage—more than three and a half times the Dominican minimum. Based on a WRC cost-of-living study, this salario digno, or “dignified wage,” enables Alta Gracia workers to support their families, covering the costs of food, housing, health care, transportation, and education for their children.
Higher wages from the factory have had a ripple effect in the surrounding community. Food stands have opened to greet the lunch rush, shiny new motorcycle taxis scoot workers to and from the factory, and construction companies are building more secure and livable homes.
The Alta Gracia model also extends the notion of “school pride” beyond the American college campuses where the company sells its products. Workers’ children have access to early education, and workers themselves can now afford to attend weekend continuing-education classes.
“Alta Gracia has given my family the chance for a better education,” says union leader Yenny Perez. “The factory even has a free daycare where my 4-year-old can play while I’m working.”
Alta Gracia products are stocked in 350 college bookstores in the United States. They retail at the same price as comparable college-logo apparel, but are the first brand to carry a tag from the WRC confirming that Alta Gracia pays a living wage, respects workers’ rights, and allows unrestricted, frequent labor-condition monitoring.
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