Industry Insider Talks Alta Gracia


Guest blog post by Ethix Merch

Ira Arlook is Chief of Advocacy Campaigns with Fenton Communications, which does public interest work around sweatshops, global warming, human rights and other issues. In addition to his work with Fenton, Ira serves as the executive director of New Economy Communications, which he founded in 1998 with former congressman Tom Andrews to encourage broad coverage and greater public understanding of domestic and international economic issues and their relationship to human rights. 

Ethix Merch: Alta Gracia Apparel features prominently on Fenton's website. What have you learned about AG's impact on workers and the local community in Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic.

Ira Arlook: By paying a living wage and recognizing the union of its workers, Alta Gracia has transformed the lives of the workers and their community in much the way one would expect. That is, when you pay people a living wage instead of the prevailing apparel wage, it offers them a pathway out of poverty and enables them to provide good nutrition, health care, decent housing, transportation and education for their familes and themselves. And the multiplier effect of their increased income contributes to the local economy and benefits the whole community. 


Ethix Merch: From your perspective, how does Alta Gracia fit into the movement to support decent pay and conditions for people around the globe, including in the United States?

Ira Arlook: Alta Gracia is the most significant breakthrough in working conditions anywhere for apparel workers, since the beginning of the modern anti-sweatshop movement in the mid-90's. It demonstrates what labor rights advocates around the world have maintained from the beginning, which is that these good conditions are economically viable as well as morally right. And we think that if it continues to succeed, which we fully expect, it can play a transformative role. All that's necessary is that the university community continue to embrace it, which we expect it will as more and more people learn about what Alta Gracia means.

Ethix Merch: You've spent decades fighting corporate malfeasance and pursuing social justice. In 2011, where do we stand? Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

Ira ArlookI'm an advocate of pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will. So no one in his or her right mind right now could feel very good about where we are. There are some very bright spots throughout Latin America and maybe a few other places around the world, but in general conditions ranging from global cimate change to massive human rights issues, to continuing wars, to right-wing generated political deadlock in the U.S., make it difficult to feel good about the situation. Nonetheless, all of us who are struggling for social justice should use this as motivation to work that much harder. 


Ethix Merch: Ethix works with many young people with an interest in pursuing a career in social justice work. What advice do you have for those just starting out?

Ira ArlookMy advice is to do it! Meaning in life is more important than any other thing about it. If you believe that pursuing social justice is what you want to do, then you just gotta find a way to do it. It can be done. Doing it does not involve sacrifice if it's really what you want. People say you have to sacrifice income. Well, if that feels like a sacrifice to you, maybe it isn't what you want. One can lead a perfectly decent, happy life in the United States today, fully engaged in a career in movements for social change. 

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