WRC Announcement: Bookstore Initiative Ready to Proceed

To:Primary Contacts, WRC Affiliate Colleges and Universities
From:Scott Nova
Date:January 21, 2009
Re:WRC Announcement: Bookstore Initiative Ready to Proceed

As you know, the WRC has been working throughout this past year with Knights Apparel, one of the largest wholesalers of university logo apparel, to make it possible for university bookstores to buy logo apparel made under exemplary labor conditions – including a living wage for workers and full respect for freedom of association. I am very happy to be able to report that this prospect is now a reality.  Knights Apparel is now ready to offer a line of apparel products to bookstores that will be made in a production facility committed to meeting these standards, with compliance to be verified through independent monitoring by the WRC. The facility, located in the Dominican Republic, will have the ability to meet the standards because of Knights Apparels’ commitment to pay a price premium for the products and to purchase all of the facility’s output.To our knowledge, this will be the first apparel export facility in the developing world where workers will earn a verified living wage. This wage will be more than three times the prevailing wage for apparel workers in the Dominican Republic. It will, we anticipate, be part of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated with a representative union. This will also be the first time an apparel brand has agreed to re-structure a supply chain relationship in order to facilitate progress on labor rights. These are historic breakthroughs.Below, we provide additional details and thoughts about the project. Most importantly, we want to make sure universities and colleges are aware that support from campus stores, in the form of sizable and timely orders, is essential for the initiative to proceed.In the Dominican Republic, over the weekend of January 9, a series of extraordinary discussions took place involving Knights Apparel; a major garment manufacturer in the Dominican Republic called Grupo M; the Dominican labor federation FEDOTRAZONAS; the Haitian labor federation Batay Ouvriye; and the WRC. These discussions led to the conclusion of a Memorandum of Understanding between Knights Apparel, FEDOTRAZONAS, Grupo M and the WRC which establishes the labor standards for the project and the parameters of a collective contract that will be negotiated once a union is recognized at the production facility in the Dominican Republic. In another first, the bargaining at the factory will be tri-partite, with Knights Apparel also at the table.In separate agreements, Knights Apparel has committed to source additional apparel for its regular retail business from Grupo M’s production facility in Haiti, where workers are represented by Batay and its local affiliate SOKOWA and where substantial labor rights progress has been achieved in recent years. Knights Apparel has also committed additional funds to support improved benefits for these workers and their community, with these benefits to be negotiated with the union. And we understand that if the Dominican factory succeeds, it is Knights Apparel’s intention to expand the new project into Haiti in its next phase. The initiative will thus bring vital benefits to workers in both countries on the island.I am also happy to be able to report that the initial factory in the Dominican Republic will be located in the industrial zone that used to house the BJ&B cap factory, which closed in 2007. As you know, workers at BJ&B achieved major labor rights gains at the factory in 2002 and 2003, with support from universities and student activists. The closure of the facility was thus a major blow to universities’ code of conduct efforts. Knights Apparel and its local partner have agreed to locate the facility in this industrial zone and to provide a significant hiring preference to former BJ&B employees. As someone who was deeply involved in the labor rights efforts at BJ&B, and who has great respect for the courageous worker leaders who made change at that factory possible, I am enormously heartened that some jobs will be returning to this community, which has been devastated by the closure of BJ&B.In reporting to you about this new initiative, I want to stress that we are talking initially about one modestly sized production facility – not a comprehensive solution, and certainly not the DSP. We are not suggesting that this represents an answer to systemic problems that continue to impede labor rights progress in university logo apparel supply chains (and in the industry in general).However, we do believe this project represents genuine, indeed unprecedented labor rights progress – not just in the realm of university logo apparel, but for the garment industry as a whole. In terms of the labor standards (living wage and an open attitude toward collective worker representation) and in terms of the supply chain reforms involved (a fair price and a commitment to buy all of a factory’s products) this project represents a step toward central goals of the anti-sweatshop movement that many have previously viewed as unreachable. We are proud to be a part of this.We recognize that this initiative is only possible because of the long-standing leadership of universities and colleges on code of conduct issues – and the initiative will need your ongoing support if it is to succeed. We also recognize that now, as was the case when this work started a decade ago, it is the passionate advocacy and dedicated organizing of student activists that continue to be the motive force of progress on these issues.The initiative is now ready to move forward – but it can only do so if bookstores are willing to buy the product at substantial volume. We hope your institution will encourage its campus stores to buy this logo apparel for the fall 2009 season and to market it energetically to their customers. Because orders for fall are being placed now through February, we hope our affiliates will give this program serious consideration in the near term. By supporting this project with solid orders and spreading the word to colleagues, universities can ensure the project’s success and bring code of conduct efforts to a new level. We will still have a long way to go, but we will be able to say that we have achieved a new degree of progress.We applaud Knights Apparel for the vision its leaders have shown in pursuing this project; they have gone well beyond what any major apparel brand has previously been willing to do and have put their company on the line in support of a new and more humane vision of apparel production. We also value the strong relationships we have built with Dominican and Haitian worker representatives, which have made it possible for us to work together effectively toward our mutual labor rights goals. We look forward to working with all of the parties in the months ahead. And we stand ready to play our role as independent and transparent verifier to ensure that all of the companies’ labor rights commitments are met.On an additional note, this project also presents what seem like wonderful educational and research opportunities. We have already received inquiries along these lines from researchers. We look forward to working with you on this aspect as well. We would also encourage you to consider participating in the WRC’s spring Study Tour for university administrators – to the Dominican Republic and to the Codevi trade zone in Haiti. Information will be circulated on the Study Tour soon.I look forward to talking with you in the coming days and weeks about this new initiative. I know that university and college stores across the country will be hearing from Knights Apparel. We are ready to answer any questions universities and colleges have about the project; please feel free to call us.Scott Nova
Worker Rights Consortium
5 Thomas Circle NW
Washington DC 20005
ph 202 387 4884
fax 202 387 3292
[email protected]