Maritza Vargas, a working mother in the Dominican Republic, can now afford to continue her children’s education and no longer has to worry about struggling to feed her family and pay rent.
“All four of my children shared one room and now we each have our own space, so we can have our own privacy and that’s been really great for me,” said Vargas, the president of the union in the Dominican Republic and an apparel worker at Alta Gracia.
Vargas works at a factory in Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic, and sewing garments such as t-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts for Alta Gracia. The new apparel brand provides collegiate products for Florida A&M and other colleges in the United States.
However, some people refer to labor factories located outside of America as “sweat shops.” Prior to working at Alta Garcia, Vargas has experienced different labor facilities in the Dominican Republic that were unsafe.
Vargas said that some of the dangers included builders sealing the roof of the infrastructure while employees were working and as a result some co-workers became ill. Also, some of the machinery used to produce garments is broken, wages were low and the workplace was hot and overcrowded.
Alta Gracia, which is owned by Knights Apparels, pays its employees at Alta Gracia above a “living wage.” The increased wages allow for employees to afford food, health expenses, clothing, shelter and education for their children and themselves.
According to an Alta Gracia staff member based in the Dominican Republic, the legal minimum wage in U.S dollars in the apparel market is approximately $148 a month or 84 cents an hour, which is a fraction of what Alta Gracia pays their employees.
The company stands out among other labor facilities, paying their employees $497 a month or $2.83 an hour, well above minimum wage.
“After battling with apparel corporations to stop sweatshop abuse for a decade, these workers finally have jobs that enable them to escape from poverty, jobs where their voice matters,” said Teresa Cheng of the International Campaigns Coordinators, United Students Against Sweatshops.
“Alta Gracia makes it unmistakably clear that brands can produce university apparel in union factories where workers are paid adequately, defying the age-old excuse that workers’ rights are incompatible with a global economy.”
Jason Bozich, serving as the C.E.O and founder of Knights Apparel based in Spartanburg, S.C, opened in 2000. Alta Gracia currently sells products to 400 universities throughout the U.S. The garments are sold at the campus bookstores, but you can also order them online at http://altagraciaapparel.com/stores/state/category/florida.
“Our vision is finally a reality. We believe doing good can translate into good business,” said Bozich.