Update on Bookstore Initiative/Knights Apparel Project
I write to update you on the WRC’s “bookstore initiative:” the effort to make collegiate apparel produced in factories that pay living wages and guarantee full respect for workers’ associational rights widely available to campus bookstores. As you know, this project is now proceeding, with Knights Apparel planning to offer such a product for sale. A factory in the Dominican Republic will manufacture the garments, with verification of labor rights compliance by the WRC.
This will be the first apparel product ever to be widely available in the United States that is made in the developing world by workers earning a living wage (in this case, more than three times the prevailing wage for apparel workers in the Dominican Republic – with the final wage to be negotiated with worker representatives).
I have attached an update from Joe Bozich, CEO of Knights Apparel, on the progress the company is making on the project. Joe’s update addresses the timing of the product’s availability. As Joe explains, this will be on a less rapid timeline than the company had originally hoped, but the project nonetheless remains very much on track. From our perspective, while we want the product to be available as soon as possible, we understand and respect the fact that Knights Apparel is committed to taking the time necessary to make sure they can fully meet the labor rights commitments they have made, as well as their commitments to their business partners. This also provides the WRC with ample time to put in place the robust monitoring program we will use to verify compliance at the production facility.
Overall, we are very happy with the progress that has been made to date. To cite a key example of this progress, Barnes & Noble College Booksellers has committed to selling the Knights Apparel product in roughly 350 of their stores and they have made a strong commitment to launch a robust and multi-faceted marketing campaign to spread awareness of the initiative. This is obviously a very significant development: there is widespread agreement that achieving a higher level of respect for workers’ rights in the apparel industry requires greater participation on the part of large retailers. For a major retailer like Barnes & Noble to lend its enthusiastic support to this initiative is very heartening and we commend the company’s leadership.
Also vitally important is the strong support the project has received from independent bookstores, a number of which have made early commitments to carry the product and to do so at substantial volume. I haven’t asked for permission to cite these stores by name, but I can say that the response of the independent stores has been greatly encouraging.
Meanwhile, discussions on the ground in the Dominican Republic with the manufacturer, and with worker representatives and local civil society groups, are continuing. These discussions, which focus on the labor rights compliance and verification process, have gone very well. This work is being coordinated on the ground by the WRC’s staff person in Santo Domingo.
I also want to note, for those who are able to attend, that Joe Bozich will be speaking about the project at the WRC’s Annual University Caucus meeting in Washington DC, on May 19.
We will keep you posted on this ground-breaking labor rights initiative. Please let us know if you have any thoughts or questions.