Today is International Women's Day and this year's theme is Equal Access to Education, Training, Science, and Mathematics: Pathway to Decent Work for Women. Though I have my issues with the theme and it's single-minded focus on corporate-driven careers as a means to achieving equality, I also think this is a great day to recognize some of the issues that still exist for women internationally. And so I thought it an appropriate time to highlight some of the advances in worker's rights that are being made in the Dominican Republic's Alta Gracia factory. Plenty of the employees in the factory are female and I believe the women's rights, worker's rights, and human rights are all inextricably linked. So here's my post on a new model of factory work that marks a new hope for women the world over:
One of the things you may have learned about me if you've followed my blog for some time is my commitment to buying used and handmade clothing as often as possible. The horrors of sweatshop labor and unethical, inhumane factory practices can only be stopped if consumers utilize their power and stop buying. So that's what I've tried to do in my own small way. Even though my single individual actions won't create a movement, I try to do whatever I can to spread the word and make the problems with mass-produced clothing known. By reducing, if not swearing off, my consumption of new clothing, I demonstrate my commitment to labor issues, no matter how small my actions may seem.
Lots of people, however, find this hard to do. I understand that in these changing times, picking up a shirt or two at Wal-mart while shopping for groceries is an efficient and often affordable alternative to browsing through the local Goodwill. There are expectations regarding how we look in the professional realm that require a certain style not always available in vintage shops. And finding handmade clothing, or making it by hand yourself, is another difficult endeavor and highly unrealistic in this day and age.
Luckily there is a new factory model being practiced in the Dominican Republic as you read that, hopefully in time, will become the norm, rather than the exception. The Alta Gracia brand, under the Knight's Apparel Company, was created in response to the rising voices of students and faculty on college campuses dissatisfied with sweatshop-produced university apparel.
The Alta Gracia Factory, so named after the town in which it is located, pays workers a living wage (in fact, their wages are 300% of minimum wage!) enabling them to provide for their families in previously unheard of ways. Shelter, clean water, food, health care, child care, and education are all within reach for these factory workers. In fact, many of them spend their weekends receiving further education now that they can afford to do so. Through a collaboration with the Worker's Rights Consortium (WRC), Alta Gracia has created a rigorous code of labor standards which ensures workers receive a living wage, respect for their rights, and WRC-monitored enforcement of labor standard compliance.
The majority of Alta Gracia products are collegiate apparel. You can see if your university, alma mater, or nearby college carries Alta Gracia's line here. And if you need to print shirts for your organization or business, you can order ethically-produced Alta Gracia-made screen-printed T-shirts from the EthixMerch site.
To learn more about Alta Gracia, you can visit their website, read this New York Times article on the factory, or read this post from the Labor is Not a Commodity Blog. Sign the 'Commitment to Buy' Alta Gracia Pledge and, if your school isn't yet sourcing Alta Gracia apparel, send a letter to the University President and Bookstore Manager urging them to choose Alta Gracia today!