Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sarah Adler-Milstein and John M. Kline's "Sewing Hope"

Sarah Adler-Milstein is a worker-rights advocate and has served as Field Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Worker Rights Consortium. John M. Kline is Professor of International Business Diplomacy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is the author of four books, including the textbook Ethics for International Business.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Sewing Hope: How One Factory Challenges the Apparel Industry's Sweatshops, and reported the following:
How do you capture the difference between heaven and earth? Sewing Hope: How One Factory Challenges the Apparel Industry’s Sweatshops tells the story of Alta Gracia, an apparel factory in the Dominican Republic.  Local workers describe the comparison between Alta Gracia and typical apparel industry sweatshops as la diferencia entre el cielo y la tierra (“the difference between heaven and earth”). Alta Gracia is the only apparel factory that pays workers a living wage over three times the legal minimum, maintains excellent health and safety standards, and has signed collective bargaining agreements with a legitimate labor union – all verified by an independent labor rights organization.

Page 99 captures one small aspect of what makes this life-changing model for apparel production so different from a "normal" factory. On top is a photo of two factory administrators reviewing personnel policies. Text on the bottom half relates the administrators’ unusual efforts and equally unusual success altering company policies to improve workers’ health insurance coverage, providing access to quality healthcare clinics and pharmacies. This “slice-of-life” example only hints at the dramatic contrasts in labor-management relations and workplace standards revealed by the full analysis of Alta Gracia’s operations.

Beyond Page 99 you'll find many other crucial aspects of the living wage model and the "big picture" view of how this one small factory could chart a course for larger industry transformation. Most executives and many economists hold a fatalistic view that low wages and dangerous conditions are unfortunate but inherent elements of competition in the global apparel industry. Alta Gracia tells a very different story: that living wages and safe factories are possible and that the cost is minimal – less than a dollar a sweatshirt.

Life-changing stories show the impact a salario digno (wage with dignity) can have on a worker’s family. There can be nutritious meals, needed healthcare and educational opportunities for both children and adults.  Later may come improvements in basic housing, such as running water, and help for relatives in need. Some workers start small businesses or train for a profession.  These other scenes of heaven are revealed if you read beyond the photo and short text on page 99.  There's so much more that Alta Gracia’s anti-sweatshop model offers by creating a kind of "heaven" for only 90¢ more a sweatshirt.
Learn more about Sewing Hope at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue