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Workers speak on sweatshop alternative apparel

By Nicholas Rondinone
On February 22, 2011

Global House held an event to raise awareness about progress made in the anti-sweatshop movement at the Student Union Tuesday.

The event, intended to connect the consumer and the producer, featured a videoconference with several employees at the Alta Gracia factory in Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic.

Alta Gracia is different from other facilities in that it offers living wages and support for families, according to its website.

The brand is the only one of its kind that offers collegiate apparel from unionized workers who make living wages, according to its website.

UConn is one of more than 350 colleges and universities across the country that receives apparel from Alta Gracia.

The facility has unrestricted monitoring from the Worker Rights Consortium to ensure that the established code of labor is being maintained.

Global House, a living and learning community located in McMahon, hosted the event in the Student Union, its first event outside of McMahon this semester.

The event had 36 students in attendance. Several of them said they were told about the event by their professors, and that in some cases they were offered extra credit.

The Alta Gracia brand was promoted by United Students Against Sweatshops, which was started in response to a growing concern about university apparel coming from sweatshops around the world.

Despite a language barrier and several technical issues with the videoconference, the students were able to hold an open discussion with two workers from Alta Gracia.

The employees were questioned about the brand's impact on the community of Villa Altagracia and on the lives of their families.

One of the employees, Marie Perez, said that she is proud to be an employee of Alta Gracia.

"I have been working here since J&B closed," Perez said. "The workers are treated like the workers they are."

The factory benefits the community as well, according to Perez, with its effects reaching groups such as bakers and motorcycle cab drivers.

"The town is very small and everyone is connected," Perez said. "This is the only job in Alta Gracia."

The Alta Gracia brand works to give its employees the opportunity to give their families the necessary food and care, something that after the closing of the J&B facility they could not do.

The facility has been successful, according to the employees, allowing for a salary of approximately 19,000 pesos a month, equivalent to around $500.

Global House has taken initiative to promote the brand at the UConn Co-op by writing a letter, signed by individuals across the campus, urging them to sell more of its products.

Representatives from the Co-op are committed to bringing in the products that people want.

Robert Hawley, technology and merchandise manager at the Co-op, said in an e-mail that the apparel has been successful at the Co-op, offering new graphics that resonate with customers.

The products are competitively priced in comparison to products from other factories around the world, according to Hawley.

"It's a fairly small percentage of our overall clothing sales so far, but since we only have about five months of sales under our belt, I think it may be a bit early to gauge what it's eventual success will be," Hawley said in an e-mail.

Several students were also convinced of the impact of Alta Gracia.

"I think that students take for granted that they can get involved," said Tiffany Touma, a 4th-semester English major and member of Global House.

"Even the minimum effort will go far for these people. Even printing out the letter and handing it in to the Co-op makes such a huge difference. So students are taken very seriously, and it's by that support that people know it's a good cause."


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