Labor that Uplifts
“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our first group trip to Santo Domingo was very interesting, fun, and a great opportunity for me, as an exchange student, to learn about the history and culture of the Dominican Republic, as well as to explore different themes of development. One of our stops during the trip was to Alta Gracia, an apparel company with a factory located in the Free Trade Zone just outside the capital. Our visit to this factory opened my eyes to the horrors that exist in many clothing factories; but in this factory, I was able to see a new model of factory work in progress.
Before arriving to Alta Gracia, I didn’t know what to expect. I had been given an article to read to learn about the company’s mission, and from that I formed my own opinion. I was familiar with factories like those in Indonesia and China that are owned by large companies like Nike and don’t provide benefits to their workers, let alone care for their well-being. I have even learned that some large companies employ children to illegally work in their factories. When we arrived to the doors of Alta Gracia, I saw what looked like any other sweatshop on the outside; but after walking around inside the factory, I discovered that Alta Gracia is nothing like a sweatshop. In reality, Alta Gracia is like no other clothing factory that I have heard of!
We had a brief talk with one of the employees of the company before taking a tour of the inside of the factory. In Spanish, she explained the history and mission of the company, and shared important information about other factories that compete with Alta Gracia and are known for treating their employees very poorly and offering them less than livable wages. Though I struggled to understand every word, I heard tons of information that surprised me: All employees of Alta Gracia are paid above the living wage (in fact, their salaries are close to three times the minimum wage in the Dominican Republic) and are given two breaks during every workday—in the morning for breakfast and in the afternoon for lunch. Alta Gracia also pays its employees independently of whether or not they reach their daily quota, and gives them overtime pay if they work extra hours. In addition to these benefits, Alta Gracia also treats women who become pregnant with dignity. During their pregnancies, they provide women with additional pay and offer sufficient time for recuperation to care for themselves and their family.
When I walked through the factory during the tour, I was surprised by the work environment that was created there. I saw a smile in almost every employee’s face. I felt happy knowing that the workers were comfortable and were even enjoying their time at work. Instead of metal chairs or cheap benches, Alta Gracia gives their employees cushioned seats to support their backs, and the space in which they work offers plenty of elbow room. Also, there is plenty of ventilation from opened windows and fans so that everyone in the factory can breathe fresh air as they work.
What struck me most about my visit to Alta Gracia was this: Alta Gracia mainly depends on universities in the United States to carry out its operations and provide benefits to its employes. As a US student, this visit has impacted me by showing me how I can help change the environment of factories in developing countries. I feel empowered to try to bring the Alta Gracia brand back to my home school in Kentucky with the hope of brining the company future success.