Alta Gracia: A Living Wage for Workers
Founded in 2010, the Alta Gracia factory serves as a model of what is possible when universities, students, and a company committed to respect for labor rights work together to make possible a factory that lives up to universities’ values and international labor standards.
Located in the town of Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic, the Alta Gracia factory produces apparel sewn by workers who are paid a living wage, are represented by a democratic union, and face none of the abusive labor conditions that continue to plague apparel workers around the world. Since the time of its inception, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) has conducted in-depth monitoring and verification of working conditions and issues annual public reports on the factory’s compliance.
Alta Gracia, and the WRC’s robust labor rights monitoring process of the factory, represent an extraordinary step forward in the work to ensure respect for worker rights in global apparel manufacturing.
Living Wage Standard
Poverty wages are a staple for workers in the garment industry. But at Alta Gracia, workers are guaranteed a living wage, a wage which allows a worker to rise above subsistence living and meet the essential needs of their family. A living wage in the Dominican Republic is approximately three times the minimum wage, which is the salary earned by almost all garment workers in this country.
Animated by the belief that a living wage should cover the cost of meeting a family’s basic needs — including food and water, housing and energy, clothing, health care, transportation, and education and childcare, as well as modest funds for savings and discretionary spending — the WRC conducted an in-depth market basket analysis in 2008 to determine the living wage standard for workers living in Villa Alta Gracia. The WRC’s analysis determined that the gross monthly wage required to fulfill workers’ necessities and expenses was, at that time, 18,152 Dominican pesos per month. Each year, the WRC reviews Dominican inflation to determine the living wage rate for the current year.
In addition to payment of a living wage, Alta Gracia has agreed to other Labor Standards that go beyond both the requirements of Dominican law and common practice in the apparel industry The most notable of these is a commitment to pay workers throughout the year, without unpaid furloughs due to fluctuations in production.
Right to Organize
When Alta Gracia was conceived in 2010, the company committed to ensuring that factory management would respect workers’ right to organize and join a union of their choosing. Shortly after the factory opened, workers formed a union, SITRALPRO (Sindicato de Trabajadores del Altagracia Project), and elected an executive committee.
Unlike most garment factories in the region, Alta Gracia allows SITRALPRO executive committee to actively and openly communicate with workers and to represent them when issues related to pay disputes, working conditions, and disciplinary procedures arise. The union has been allowed to have an office in the factory, to post flyers in the plant, and to make announcements to the workforce when necessary.
The union meets regularly with factory management to discuss the improvements that are needed, production methods and problems, and personnel issues. The union and factory management have successfully negotiated collective bargaining agreements that make improvements to the initial conditions established by the factory. Crucially, the union’s collective bargaining agreement establishes a process for the factory management and union to annually agree on wage figure that, at a minimum, keeps pace with inflation.
Occupational Health and Safety
A key challenge for many production facilities in the apparel industry, optimum occupational health and safety (OHS) conditions are a central priority at Alta Gracia. The factory has welcomed international experts to work with both management and worker leaders to design and implement an exemplary health and safety program. The Maquila Health and Safety Solidarity Network (MHSSN) and the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) of the University of California at Berkeley have played a key role in supporting Alta Gracia’s efforts to live up to its commitment to a safe and healthy workplace.
The factory’s OHS Committee, which includes factory and worker representatives, meets regularly and plays an important role in overseeing the factory’s safety practices and emergency evacuation procedures and in ensuring that potential dangers or health risks in the factory are investigated and addressed.
The recommendations provided by international experts and the OHS Committee, and management’s commitment to implementation, have resulted in factory conditions significantly above the industry norm. One example with far-reaching implications for workers’ health is the use of ergonomic cushioned chairs with back support. The factory’s use of proper chairs stands in stark contrast to most factories in the Dominican Republic, which offer sewing machine operators wooden benches that provide no back support. The ergonomic chairs used at Alta Gracia significantly reduce repetitive stress injuries among the workforce.