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KI Supports Study of Sweat-Free College Apparel Effort

September 3, 2010

Alta Gracia workers holding living wage paychecks.

This fall, American students will head back to their college campuses and visit their school bookstores, where they will stock up on gear printed with their favorite college logos.  Too often, their school-branded apparel comes from factory sweatshops where workers labor for low wages in unsafe conditions.  This fall, apparel workers at Alta Gracia, a new factory in the Dominican Republic dedicated to producing clothing under humane working conditions in jobs that offer a living wage and recognize workers’ freedom of association, will be stocked by many leading colleges and universities.    For decades, apparel workers, consumers, and manufacturers have struggled to solve the problem of sweatshops. The Alta Gracia project is an effort to solve the problem of the sweatshop by getting colleges and universities and their students and supporters to reward  “high-road” employment practices with their patronage.  Employment practices at Alta Gracia are monitored by the Workers’ Rights Consortium to ensure their high standards.  This summer, Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor funded a report on the project by Professor John M. Kline, of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, and the Karl F. Landegger Program in International Business Diplomacy.

Kline’s study find enormous promise in the Alta Gracia experiment.  “If successful, Alta Gracia should spur a reassessment of economic assumptions that accept ‘sweatshop’ conditions as the best available alternative for people in poverty,” he writes.  “The approach goes above and beyond the labor standards required by most university licensing codes, marking a path toward a more humane and sustainable way out of poverty for apparel workers. If enough consumers care, corporations could be challenged to engage in a ‘race to the top’ to brand products based on good workplace conditions rather than an association with famous celebrities.”  A full copy of the Kline report, Alta Gracia: Branding Decent Work Conditions, can be found here.

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