What’s the status of Alta Gracia at Temple?


Videos from the Alta Gracia factory tour!

“Aquí nadie es mejor que nadie, y todos somos iguales.”

How they dealt with tax issues with management..

Students are welcome here.

Room to grow.

No individual contracts.

Video blogs, Part I

I have taken manyyy video blogs, and so it takes time to upload them all via youtube to share on here. More to come!

It’s quite a coincidence the banner’s message behind me in this video.

Day 1, after meeting everyone in Santo Domingo.

Heading to Villa Altagracia on Day 2, in a Guagua (Dominican form of public transportation- kind of like Peruvian combos).

Quickie history briefing on Alta Gracia.

Meeting the Alta Gracia union members.

Walking tour of Villa Altagracia.

Home-stay living conditions

Enjoy 🙂

Pictures/Videos won’t upload here for some reason, but at least you can have a snapshop idea of what’s going on here…

Sooo this trip is absolutely incredible, I can’t believe I am here and was able to come with only a few days notice. I reallly appreciate everyone’s support.

Our first night was spent in Santo Domingo and we talked to union workers there and had a lot of time to get to know eachother in candlelight since it’s normal here for the power to just go out, everyday). The second day we headed to Villa Alta Gracia, where we are staying until the 10th.

My housing is with a host family and another American student, Angela. Our host family is really amazinggggg. Lucrecia and Nelson are the names of our host parents and we have a 15 year old host sister and a 21 year old host brother. Lucrecia is the bread-winner of the family and has gone through a TON to support her family in the way that she is finally able to today.

They live in a small house with fiberglass roofing and sheets as doors. The pathway from their street which is not well kept is a mud sidewalk and the living is very simple for them. They have bucket baths, a radio that works halfway to entertain themselves with music I brought cds home last night and we all hung out and talked about their music and listened to it). Angela & I think that the parents gave up their bedroom for us this week, which is super sweet and I couldn’t feel more honored. It is awesome to stay with this family, they are so happy, simple and fun! I wish all American families could experience their way of living, and the weight of their worries, to put things in the states into perspective.

The house is painted pink because it was my host sister’s quincinera last February (about a year after Lucrecia had been working with Alta Gracia) and she wanted to paint the house Lady’s favorite color as a birthay surprise (Lady is the name of our host sister). A pink house isn’t quite shocking because all of the houses here are veryyyy fun and colorful, like a rainbow village in the mountains.

Here’s another nutshell story about my host mom.. she used to work for another company who makes apparel for Hanes and was associated with a federation that really was a driving force on site for Alta Gracia. However, when she was working at Gilden (the Hanes factory here), she was driven to be an activist in persuing a union for workers rights in this town because one time (the cherry on the cake of everything else she witnessed) she had to stand up for a pregnant co-worker who was shoved down by a manager of the sweat-shop and so Lucrecia punched him. She was sued because he claimed she cut him and she was sent to jail immediately and fired. Another similar story I was told by another work is about a co-worker who lost her baby due to being punched by a manager. In sweatshops here, many women are not even considered for jobs because of the possibility of pregnancy, and those who are considered must take a pregnancy/HIV test and must be on birth control when they work.

I have heard so so so many beautiful and sad and crazy inspiring stories that I want to share with everyone, I will post videos and more details, but it is hard to find a good chuck of internet time because I’m so busy doing awesome things while I am here! Look for more info in a few days.

The people who I am here with are all amazing activists on their campuses from around the U.S. and it’s really inspiring to hear all of their passions and tactics to get things done, I am definitely coming back energized to fight for Alta Gracia at Temple and with an amazing network of trade justice activists. Can’t wait!!!!

This morning the workers wanted us to meet all of their kids (some are our age so it was really awesome to meet them). They all told us their experiences being in the backseat of the fight for the union and the Alta Gracia, living wage company. It was truly moving, they are veryyyy beautiful people.

Then today we all had a delicious lunch at the Union office and headed on a hike to a small mountain river. The poverty here in incredible, I wish I could bring everyone here to see how little these folks have and yet how much love and drive they have. I feel so gracious to know them now. The hike was beautiful, it was a sunnyyyyy afternoon and walking through the river was a great cool-down. To get back, neighbors offered to pick us up in a truck and so we rode in the bed of the truck through the villages back to the office, just as the sun was setting. It was one of the moments where I have a reality check about where in the world I am and with who.

Tonight we are all going out to dance bachata, merengue and salsa and it’s going to be awesome!!

Rewind to yesterday- we met another group of factory workers (still a sweat-shop) at the beach to hear about their stories and how they are currently trying to form a union with the support of students and the federation that helped drive Alta Gracia too.

We spent the day hanging out together on the beach and for sunset we all gathered on a big circle of sand on the beach to brainstorm tactics and ideas for Alta Gracia campaigns on our campus. It was such a beautiful night, and felt great to be on the beach!

The new Dominican families and friends I have met inspire me to work to spread their success story and to make sure it is a sustainable business that can provide for many more families in the future.

I feel so grateful to be here, thanks to everyone who supported me a million times.

P.S. the papaya and avocados here are TO DIE FOR!

P.S.S. I am going to organize a big info meeting about everything I have learned here and to talk to SRB and Temple Students for Fair Trade about some concerns I have about Fair Trade, some ideas I have for this semester, and some things I am learning here!

Updates :)

Holy Moly! This trip rocks, learning a lot, hearing a lot of good stories, seeing some crazy things, just toured Alta Gracia factory today.

However, I have to apologize to anyone and everyone following this blog. Internet connection here is S…L…O…W… and it’s super frustrating to waste my time uploading the bajillion video blogs that I am actually recording, so hopefully by the end of the trip I can hit up a legit wifi spot so I can share this experience with all of you wonderful folks.

From Miami International Airport…

Running into troubles uploading videos, will upload soon! Boarding now.

Heading to visit Villa Altagracia in the Dominican Republic to learn more about Fair Trade & workers rights!

This time last year I was just settling back in the United States after having spent my fall 2010 semester studying abroad in Lima, Peru, where my knowledge of and interest in Fair Trade grew tremendously. In Lima, I worked with a local coffee-shop entrepreneur and business professor to conduct research on the Fair Trade model for trading things like coffee, bananas, chocolate, clothes, artisan crafts, wine, flowers, etc. with a focus on the case of the most well-known coffee producer in Peru (cafe Tunki). This was a fun experience because I got to interview Fair Trade workers and certifiers in Spanish and conduct local surveys in Spanish- a cool way to practice my second language. It was also fascinating to get direct insight on how the Fair Trade model does impact local community members who work under Fair Trade certified conditions and the lives of their families. I think I’d heard of Fair Trade before, but I couldn’t recognize the label and it just seemed like some marketing hook businesses were taking advantage of to make customers feel like they “do good” when they buy Fair Trade. After meeting Fair Trade workers directly, I find that buying Fair Trade products when available is a good thing, it’s a great thing. So I have made it a mission of mine to raise Fair Trade awareness to other Temple students because I believe that creating a demand for Fair Trade products will make big businesses reevaluate their trade ethics. Demand for Fair Trade products can change the way most multinational corporations are producing for the better, if approached with caution to avoid degrading the model’s ethics and maintaining proper and honest auditing of Fair Trade worker-employee relationships. I also believe students are going to be the driving force of this shift in demand.

Temple Students for Fair Trade and Students for Responsible Business aim to raise this awareness, educate other students to recognize the label and know what it stands for, tackle new procurement and resolution policies for Temple to pass, and bring more Fair Trade products to campus. We support other forms of Fair Trade products beyond agricultural items, like craft, jewelry and clothes, which are supporting by the Fair Trade Federation and have different ethical trade standards.

One of the companies we are especially promoting to the student body and everyone associated with Temple University is Knights Apparel and their Alta Gracia Brand.

In a nutshell, Alta Gracia is only a bit over a year old and was an old Nike/Reebok sweatshop (BJ&B factory) that neglected the community and moved production elsewhere when workers started standing up for their labor rights (simple things like bathroom breaks weren’t allowed and they were being overworked and underpaid by standards of the Workers Rights Consortium [WRC]). Knights Apparel saw potential in the closed-down factory building, invested in revamping it to be equipped with better ventilation, comfortable workspaces, and more air circulation, and re-opened and re-hired at the plant, reviving the small community that had been struggling since the abuse and abandonment of the previous BJ&B factory.

Here (http://usas.org/maritzas-story/) you can read the Alta Gracia union President’s story for a better idea of the journey in transforming BJ&B into Alta Gracia!

Now, Temple Students for Fair Trade is aiming to get better advertising for Alta Gracia apparel in the university bookstore, have the apparel moved to a more central location to encourage more purchases, and eventually bring about a great increase in the variety of and amount of Alta Gracia collegiate apparel at Temple University.

Next week I am flying to Villa Altagracia in the Dominican Republic (just a bit north of Santo Domingo) to get a first-hand look at how Alta Gracia impacts the community, hear the workers stories, and learn about how Fair Trade, trade law, and Free Trade Zones (FTZs) shape the living conditions of local workers.

My hope is to create a presentation/research paper to share at the 2012 Fair Trade Towns & Universities National Conference and/or Turf-Crews Undergraduate Research Forum at Temple University this spring.

This trip is possible thanks to the support of Fair World Project (http://www.fairworldproject.org/), the Creative Arts, Research and Scholarship (CARAS) Program at Temple University (http://www.temple.edu/vpus/opportunities/CARAS.htm), Students for Responsible Business & Temple Students for Fair Trade (http://srbonline.org/), Professor Lynne Andersson, Assistant Director of Institute of Global Management Studies & Temple Ciber, Gloria Angel, and my wonderful family. Thanks everyone!!!

I’ll be posting a pre-departure video blog on here before I leave, and I hope to blog daily while abroad, but I’ll be staying with a Dominican host family and will have limited internet access. I’ll definitely update posts and stories about my experience when I can! Be sure to follow this blog, my trip is from January 2-14, and I’ll be back in Philadelphia on January 15th!