Stop Sweatshops Campaign
Was Your School's Cap Made In This Sweatshop?
Was Your School's Cap Made In This Sweatshop?
UNITE Report on Campus Caps made by
Outside of Santo Domingo in the Dominican town of Villa Altagracia, 2,050 workers, mostly teenage girls or young women, make baseball caps bearing the names of America's great universities. Workers say that in a typical week at BJ&B they earn approximately $40 after 56 hours of work.
Thousands of miles away, students, families, alumni and sports fans buy these caps at campus stores at Harvard, Rutgers, Georgetown, Cornell, Duke and other universities. They pay about $20 for a cap. The University makes about $1.50 from each cap from a licensing fee. Of that price, only 8¢ goes to the workers who made the cap.
Members of these university communities don't know about the workers in Villa Altagracia. And the Dominican workers don't know much about the universities whose logos they embroider onto caps. However, in April, 1998, workers from the BJ&B plant are visiting the United States to meet with members of some of these university communities. They will meet with student groups who are calling for policies governing university licensing that assure that the goods bearing the university's name are made under decent working conditions. Their visit has been facilitated by the Dominican labor union that is struggling to win improvements in the lives of workers at plants such as BJ&B. But the workers who are visiting may be taking great personal risks - including the possibility of being blacklisted from other jobs once they return.
People work at BJ&B to try to build a life for their families. But BJ&B's policies will likely result in workers staying hungry, poorly housed and poorly clothed. Part of the problem is the low pay level. The pay is 1/3 of what the Dominican government says is sufficient for a typical family. Worse, BJ&B's policies keep workers from being able to improve their lives. The company forces overtime work, often requiring 56 hours of work per week in violation of Dominican law. This policy forces many of the young people who take evening classes to give up their education in order to keep their jobs. BJ&B's policy has been to pay women less than men, in violation of Dominican law. And BJ&B employees complain that the company recently terminated its entire workforce to avoid the legally required pay and benefit increases that come after one year's work. BJ&B then rehired workers as entry level employees. Union leaders report that this evasion of the law is typical of sweatshop companies in the Dominican Republic.
Conditions inside the BJ&B plant are disturbing. Workers report that managers hit workers to discipline them, and touch women inappropriately; that managers shout at and belittle workers; that the drinking water causes disease; and that the company's safety practices are poor. Some workers injured on the job have been fired.
And when workers disgusted with these practices try to do something about it, the company's action is swift and decisive. Last time a group of workers began to talk about forming a union, the company conducted mass firings of suspected union sympathizers. Workers report that the company fired people just because they lived in a village where some of the union activists came from.
By any reasonable person's definition, BJ&B is a sweatshop. But the good news is that the new relationship between these workers and concerned members of the university community gives some reasons for hope. Sweatshops proliferate when they are hidden. Worker mistreatment takes place when an uncaring boss thinks nobody is looking. Impoverished communities are exploited when greed gets disguised as good business practices.
In March of 1998, Duke University courageously adopted the first licensing code that might make a difference to workers at BJ&B and similar factories. Duke will require that companies licensing Duke's name ensure fair treatment of workers. And Duke requires that much of the information about where products are made be available to the public, so that sweatshop conditions cannot remain hidden. The Duke policy expresses a preference for companies taking leadership in the area of workplace conditions, so that companies that pay enough to bring workers out of poverty can be rewarded for their responsible conduct.
The Duke action took courage on the part of the administration, and on the part of the students who raised this issue. The visit of BJ&B workers to the U.S. to tell their story requires even more courage. But they are here in the hope that their story will motivate more universities to join Duke in adopting licensing policies that demand accountability from the producers of licensed apparel. This report is the story of the workers at BJ&B.
At BJ&B caps are big business
If you wander across a college campus, you are likely to find a bookstore or university shop that sells smart-looking baseball caps bearing the name or logo of the university. Chances are that cap was manufactured in the Dominican Republic. It was very likely made at BJ&B.
BJ&B is a seven-plant complex that employs over 2,000 workers. BJ&B is a major producer of baseball-style caps bearing the insignia of universities, professional sports teams, and name brands. U.S. athletic apparel companies such as Champion and Starter supply BJ&B with much of the university insignia work.
BJ&B is big business. BJ&B, along with Mocarea, another Dominican plant, is the primary manufacturing center for one of the largest cap producers in the world. Yupoong, the parent company of BJ&B, says that it makes 14.4 million baseball caps per year in the Dominican Republic.
BJ&B makes caps with the following logos:
Who makes money from this flow of economic activity? Not the workers who make the product, and to a large extent, not the economy of the Dominican Republic.
The university benefits. In the university shop, you can pay $15 to $22 for a cap made at BJ&B, but the typical cost is $19.95. The university collects a licensing fee - typically 7.5% of the retail price, and sometimes over 10%. So the university collects about $1.50 or more from your purchase of a cap made at BJ&B.
But only 8¢ of the purchase price goes to pay the workers who made the cap.1 The university gets about 20 times more than the workers from the sale of each cap!
Foreign ownership. If the workers are only paid 8¢ of the $19.95 price, do the profits at BJ&B at least stay in the community? BJ&B is owned by Yupoong, which is a privately-held Korean company. Based on Yupoong's sales and production information, we estimate that Yupoong sells the cap to their immediate customers - companies like Starter or Champion Ð for about $4.50. This is consistent with what people in the industry say imported embroidered caps cost at wholesale. If you take 8¢ direct labor costs out of $4.50, that leaves a lot of room for materials, management, shipping, depreciation, miscellaneous costs...and profit. But the profit made at BJ&B doesn't stay to help the Dominican economy. It goes to its parent company, Yupoong in Korea.
Tax Breaks. If profits don't stay in the Dominican Republic, does the local economy benefit from taxes paid by the company? BJ&B is located in an industrial free trade zone - Zona Franca de Villa Altagracia. Government literature states that companies such as BJ&B are exempted from paying import fees and income taxes in free trade zones.
What 8¢ Means To BJ&B Workers
"Even with a dozen hours of overtime, she only makes about $40, she said. When I asked her if that was enough for her to live on, she laughed. 'Not even half,' she said through an interpreter." -Bob Herbert, "Sweatshop U." in New York Times, April 12, 1998
Most workers living on a BJ&B paycheck are living in poverty.
The impoverished conditions are immediately visible in Villa Altagracia. Families of 5 or more people, and sometimes whole extended families, live in crowded and often ramshackle housing. It is common for 5 family members to sleep in the same room. The contrast could not be sharper between the run-down housing of BJ&B's workers and the modern plant with its millions of dollars of hi-tech embroidery machines.
Long hours and little pay. The base pay for a typical worker for a full 44-hour work-week amounts to $30.54, or 69¢ per hour.2 This is only 1/3 of what the Dominican government estimates to be the necessary income for a typical family to meet its basic needs.3 This means that BJ&B workers could afford to meet these basic needs if they got paid an extra 16¢ for every $19.95 cap they make.
A worker can earn an estimated $43.22 for the week by putting in a 56-hour week, and earning a $3.42 bonus for perfect on-time attendance, meeting production quota, and not getting on the bad side of the supervisor.4 Said one 18-year old-worker, "If the supervisor doesn't like you, you'll never get your bonus."
As the table below shows, survival is a struggle on a BJ&B wage. There is a sad irony to the poverty wages paid at BJ&B. Where BJ&B now stands, workers say there once stood a unionized sugar mill that paid higher wages. Now this giant cap-maker dominates the Villa Altagracia free trade zone. The development of BJ&B has not brought economic progress to the struggling community of Villa Altagracia.
1 How do we know this 8¢ figure? We know the wage level, and we can estimate how much time is spent making each cap. We have two sources to estimate labor time, which are consistent with each other. One is the number of caps workers say each work unit produces per day. The other is the amount of labor per cap in other embroidered baseball cap plants.
2 Take-home pay is lower, because of a legally required deduction of about 2.5% for social security (public health care).
3 Calculation done by Dominican economist Felipe Santos based on the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic's study, "Estudios sobre gastos e ingresos de la unidad familiar."
4 Many workers interviewed said that favoritism plays heavily into whether workers get paid the bonus.