Living Wage Garment Factory Gaining Foothold

A four-year-old “grand experiment” in sweatshop-free labor is proving that the garment industry can thrive while providing workers with a safe environment and a living wage, according to the Huffington Post. Alta Gracia, an apparel factory in the Dominican Republic, pays workers three times the country’s minimum wage.

The plant, which produces collegiate wear for South Carolina-based Knights Apparel, is regularly monitored by the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent group. “If we can get every factory in the industry to be like this, I would retire,” the consortium’s director, Scott Nova, tells HuffPo. “There would be very little left for labor-rights activists to do in the garment sector.”

A report from Georgetown University finds that Alta Gracia is “transitioning from a fragile startup to a stable firm.” The business brought in about $11 million in sales in 2013. The brand is now sold at more than 800 college campuses across the U.S., and company officials expect to have reached $16 million in sales by the end of 2014. Joe Bozich, chief executive of Knights Apparel, tells the Huffington Post he believes this year will be the first time Alta Gracia is profitable. “It’s working,” he says. “Four years ago, when we started this, nobody knew. Nobody’s ever tried what we're doing with an apparel factory.”

Maritza Vargas, a 49-year-old union leader, says Alta Gracia is unlike any other job she’s had during her 25 years as a factory worker. She and her colleagues aren't forced to work extra hours, but receive overtime pay if they do; plus, they receive frequent breaks. “It’s as simple as understanding that we’re human beings, not machines,” she says through a translator.