BY ISN STAFF | August 26, 2015
SAINT LOUIS, MO – Saint Louis University High School physical education students will be making a statement about the dignity of workers when they hit the gym floor this school year. All 400 physical education t-shirts purchased for the incoming freshman class were assembled at the Alta Gracia Living Wage apparel factory in the Dominican Republic. Alta Gracia is the only factory of its kind in the Global South, offering a living wage (approximately 3x the Dominican Republic’s minimum wage), the ability for workers to form and manage a union, and stringent factory health and safety standards.
The intentional shift to a living wage product is part of a larger effort by the school’s Pax Christi student group to create a school-wide ethical purchasing policy that emphasizes fair trade, the dignity of workers, and labor rights. According to Dan Finucane, theology teacher and Pax Christi advisory, students in the Pax Christi group who attended the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice over the past two years formulated the draft policy. A committee of faculty committed to deepening the campus’s understanding and commitment to Catholic Social Teaching has used the policy as a guide for the curricular and co-curricular work on worker rights education.
Currently there is no formal “fair trade” certification for apparel. However, Alta Gracia offers workers the core values of fair trade through a living wage that is based on the cost of living in the Dominican Republic, a commitment to provide a safe and healthy working environment, and the ability to establish and participate in a workers union.
Alta Gracia apparel has been available as licensed athletic apparel in many Jesuit college and university bookstores since the factory’s inception in 2010. However, Saint Louis University High School is one of numerous Jesuit secondary schools and colleges that have grown their commitment to Alta Gracia in recent months. This influx is in part due to the February 2015 announcement by the Ignatian Solidarity Network and EthixMerch, Alta Gracia’s U.S. distributor, of a formal partnership to promote Alta Gracia. EthixMerch is a socially conscious promotional items company based in Massachusetts that serves as the main distributor for Alta Gracia imprinted apparel. Together, EthixMerch and ISN have increased education about Alta Gracia, providing educational webinars and print resources, to create easier access and understanding of the living wage apparel for Jesuit and other partner institutions.
“Saint Louis University High School’s is making a statement grounded in their Jesuit mission,” said Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. Kerr continued, “We are hopeful that other schools will use SLUHS’s example as an impetus to being integrating living wage apparel into already existing apparel needs within their school community.”
One Jesuit institution has made a significant intellectual contribution to the success of Alta Gracia. Faculty at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business have conducted a series of studies on the impacts of Alta Gracia on the local community as well as the effectiveness of the factories business model as a living wage operation. Studies include: Alta Gracia: Four Years And Counting (2014), Alta Gracia: Work with a Salario Digno (2011), Alta Gracia: Branding Decent Working Conditions (2010), and Reassessing Collegiate Anti-Sweatshop Efforts: Can University Licensing Codes Meet Workers’ Basic Needs? (2012).
A respected independent organization, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), verifies Alta Gracia’s compliance with the highest standards through intensive on-the-ground monitoring of the factory. Every Alta Gracia product carries a WRC tag confirming the product was sewn by workers who are paid a living wage, have a union to represent them, and are treated fairly when they come to work. The WRC published their most recent report verifying Alta Gracia in November 2014. The report described Alta Gracia as “the first and only export apparel factory in the Global South where workers are paid a genuine living wage and have organized a union without interference by management.”
“We think promoting fairly traded products like Alta Gracia is at the heart of our mission at Saint Louis University High School, especially its invitation to form students committed to doing justice,” said Finucane. “We look forward to expanding our relationship with Alta Gracia and their U.S. partner EthixMerch.