INK_BLAST | AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES MUST HELP UNIONIZE DOMINICAN SWEATSHOPS
By Juleyka Lantigua
With baseball season swinging into full gear, take a look at the “made in” label inside the baseball caps many of us wear. You may be surprised to learn that the cap you’re wearing was made under inhumane working conditions in places like the Dominican Republic.
Sweatshop workers stitch logos into caps for Major League Baseball, the NHL, the NBA and the NFL.
Many college caps are made there, too. One company, BJ&B, for example, manufactures caps for the Universities of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Missouri, Connecticut, Arizona, Louisiana State, Cornell, Northwestern, Penn State, Tulane and Purdue.
College logo apparel sales are estimated at $2.5 billion annually, according to the Chicago Tribune. The industry is a classic profit pyramid, with workers constituting the exploited bottom rung.
Here’s how it works: A university licenses its name and logo to American apparel distributors like Nike, Starter, Champion and Reebok, and earns about $1.50 per cap. BJ&B, for example, then pays the worker 8 cents per cap. At that pay rate, a worker takes home $40 for a typical 56-hour work week, as calculated by UNITE, an anti-sweatshop lobbying group. The total cost of making the cap comes out to about $6.08, but consumers pay about $19.95 for the cap.
The big winners are BJ&B’s corporate parent, Yoopong Group in Korea, one of the largest cap producers in the world, and the American corporations that act as middlemen. Yoopong makes 14.4 million caps in the Dominican Republic alone.
The Spanish name for the industrial areas is “zona franca.” It translates into “industrial free-trade zone,” which means companies located there are exempt from import fees and income taxes. But for tens of thousands of Dominican factory workers, what it really means is “unregulated worker-exploitation zone.”
Thanks to continued pressure from American universities and companies, BJ&B workers were allowed to form a union in March and settled their first contract with management. The unionized workers now constitute the largest democratic, independent union in the free-trade zones of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
More unions are necessary. Working conditions at many of the 500 foreign-owned factories throughout the country are reprehensible. Health and safety hazards, arbitrary disciplining by ruthless managers, women being forced to take pregnancy tests prior to being hired, forced overtime, wage discrimination against women, no safe drinking water, no benefits, overtime or productivity incentives, are commonplace.
"Juleyka Lantigua is a journalist and editor whose work appears in national newspapers and magazines. For more info visit: www.juleykalantigua.com."