Alta Gracia Apparel Is Alternative To USC’s Licensing Deal With Nike
Read part one of the series, "USC Declines To Affiliate With Sweatshop Monitoring Organization," here.
Read part two of the series, "USC Deal With Dallas Cowboys Supports Sweatshop Labor," here.
The statue sports five traits that constitute the core values of USC: faithful, skillful, scholarly, courageous, and ambitious. The goal of the “We are Considerate” campaign is purportedly to “get the community to see ‘considerate’ as that sixth trait moving forward…To this end, the kickoff will give students and other members of the university community an opportunity to fill out pledge cards promising to be considerate toward their fellow Trojans.”
But what about consideration as a guiding principle toward those who might not directly be a part of the Trojan family, but contribute to USC in the form of apparel and other products, sold at the bookstore in demonstration of Trojan pride?
The USC bookstore sells clothing branded with the symbol of Nike, a widely recognizable company. They are known, for one thing, for their use of sweatshops.
Nike’s association with factories using sweatshop labor practices is well documented. Abuses in one case included withholding $2.2 million in severance pay from workers, as well as deducing health care premiums from wages that were never paid into the health care system. Many workers at several factories were also threatened with violence and/or dismissal if they were associated with labor rights groups or unions. At a now-closed factory in El Salvador, management neglected to pay workers legally mandated compensation, including contributions to health and pension funds, payment for overtime, disability leave, maternity leave, sick leave, and severance pay to workers dismissed when the factory closed. Not to mention the instances of child labor, harassment, and abuse. Policies such as these seem to be the rule in many of Nike’s factories.
SCALE, USC’s Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, has been pressuring USC to sign a deal with a different company, Knights Apparel, through their factory, Alta Gracia. Alta Gracia “is a new brand of t-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies on college campuses all over the country that offers students, their families and alumni the opportunity to give the workers who sew this clothing a pathway out of poverty.” They pay their workers a living wage that “enables them to provide adequate food, clean water, clothing, shelter, health care, child care, and education for themselves and their families…and hope for a better future.” Their factory, located in the Dominican Republic, is closely monitored by the Worker Rights Consortium, which has verified that the conditions of the factory are consistent with the preceding statements.
The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) is “an independent labor rights monitoring organization, conducting investigations of working conditions in factories around the globe.” Their goal is to “combat sweatshops and protect the rights of workers who make apparel and other products,” with a focus on investigating “labor practices of factories that make university-related apparel.”
Alta Gracia developed their code of labor standards while working with the WRC. The code involves paying a living wage to every worker, which works out to “more than three times the standard industry wage,” respecting the rights of workers to safe work environments, respectful treatment, and the right to form and join a union.
Products produced by Alta Gracia carry tags from the WRC confirming that the product was sewn at a factory that respects workers’ rights,” tags that the WRC only allows the company to use “as long as [the company] is in compliance with [their] labor standards.” Over 450 colleges and universities carry Alta Gracia clothing in their bookstores. Not USC.
Rather than moving forward in making sure that clothing sold in the USC bookstore supports workers’ rights, USC has not made a significant effort to secure a working relationship with Alta Gracia.
Matt Curran, Director of Trademark Licensing and Social Responsibility at USC, commented that the USC Bookstore had offered earlier this year to make an initial purchase of $15,000 worth of Alta Gracia products and to display those products prominently in the store, an offer that Alta Gracia turned down. Curran stated, “The offer to purchase and market Alta Gracia products remains on the table, and we are hopeful that Alta Gracia will reconsider its decision to decline the proposed opportunity to partner with the USC Bookstore.”
Despite the fact that the university claims to support the efforts by Knights Apparel to protect workers’ rights, their offer of only $15,000 is not, in the minds of the members of SCALE, representative of a genuine commitment to the company. UCLA this year, according to the Daily Bruin, pledged to order $70,000 worth of apparel from Alta Gracia, with a projection of future purchases of $150,000.
USC can afford to make a more genuine commitment to a company that treats its workers fairly, a choice the university has not made.
Meanwhile, USC has made a deal with the Dallas Cowboys, a company known for its association with sweatshop labor.
SCALE at USC is working toward a labor rights-sensitive future for university policy with regard to its licenses. Julia Wang, co-president of SCALE, stated:
“Some good first steps would be to affiliate with the Workers Rights Consortium, and to start sourcing, at the very least 10% of the bookstore apparel, from Alta Gracia, one of the only collegiate apparel factories dedicated to paying its workers a living wage.”
The university must understand that students care about these issues; many do not want to purchase clothing that is unethically obtained. Students want to be able to show their school pride, but face conflicts in doing so when there is evidence that USC clothing comes from factories using sweatshop labor.
To get involved with SCALE at USC, contact them here.