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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

The New Alta Gracia Brand of Collegiate T- Shirts, Living Wages, and American Colleges and Universit

Yesterday’s post touched on the disquieting situation in which businesses appear to act irresponsibly when conducting operations overseas. That is, the action may be irresponsible, but the business defends itself with the argument that it acted “legally.” What that means in the real world is that the business feels able to claim that there was no statute explicitly prohibiting its precise actions. Of course, the absence of an explicit statutory prohibition will be true in most instances unless civil code law is dramatically expanded and made global.

The low standard of acting "legally" looks even worse when considered in the light of a great New York Times story by Steven Greenhouse regarding an overseas operation of an American business that is going well beyond acting “legally,” and instead is doing far more than the law requires. Mr. Greenhouse’s article follows logically from his important 2008 book, The Big Squeeze, which is described in some detail on his website. In short, the book focuses on the global garment industry and its operations. The book includes plenty of examples of the adverse consequences that follow when businesses limit their conduct to acting “legally,” but not responsibly.

Mr. Greenhouse’s article focuses on a US business known as Knight’s Apparel. Knight’s Apparel is acting well more than just “legally” by opening a garment factory in the Dominican Republic with a goal of paying a living wage for production of college t-shirts. A living wage in this case means 3.5 times the prior employee wages, and so about $ 500 per month. The CEO, Joseph Bozich, is trying to give something back to society in recognition of his relative good fortune in avoiding a possible brain tumor and instead having “only” multiple sclerosis.

The shirts will be marketed under the trade name Alta Gracia. The name is derived from the site of the factory. A big part of the support comes from the Worker Rights Consortium. As described by its website:

“The WRC was founded in April of 2000 by university administrators, students, and international labor rights experts. The WRC was created to assist universities with the enforcement of their labor rights codes of conduct, which were adopted to protect the rights of workers producing apparel and other goods bearing university names and logos. At the time of its founding, the WRC had the support of 44 universities; since then, the total number of college and university affiliates has reached 174 and continues to grow.”

Go here to check and see if your alma mater is a supporter. I was delighted to see that its supporters include my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Mr. Bozich’s great efforts bring to mind more than just The Big Squeeze. Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling Outliers: The Story of Success, a book that is explained in more detail on Mr. Gladwell’s website. Pages 139-158 are a titled: Lesson Number 3: The Garment Industry and Meaningful Work. In short, that subchapter tells the story of how some US immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s were able to use/leverage their garment making skills from home to create new businesses that prospered and demonstrably opened doors for future generations.

In short, the Big Squeeze and Outliers powerfully show the potential impact of the efforts of the WRC and Mr. Bozich to create the Alta Gracia brand and at the same time try to improve a piece of the world. Bravo to all!

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