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Co-Op America, a national nonprofit organization founded in 1982, provides the economic strategies, organizing power and practical tools for businesses and individuals to address today's social and environmental problems.
New Initiative: American Apparel: Bringing Dignity to the Apparel Industry
Co-Op America
June 2003

The garment manufacturing industry might easily conjure up images of sweatshops but companies like American Apparel in Los Angeles are working to change that.

Dov Charney, founder and senior partner, boasts about his company's labor and environmental practices and calls executives of other garment companies chicken for not doing enough to end sweatshops. Charney rejects the notion that sweatshop conditions have to exist for a company to be competitive in the garment industry.

American Apparel makes its own line of T-shirts and underwear for men, women and children, selling merchandise to both wholesale suppliers and individual consumers.

What sets the company apart is that it is a very large apparel manufacturing company with 1,000 employees [as of April 2004, it has 1,500 employees] that gives its workers a living wage and benefits, does not subcontract any work, and continues to make a profit and expand.

Charney says his business model of keeping all manufacturing work in-house at his LA factory helps the company constantly identify ways to be more efficient and reduces transportation costs. Money saved is then invested into workers and the workplace.

For example, the company pays workers an average of $11 an hour, plus overtime. Starting a few months ago, workers were given the option of purchasing healthcare for $8 a week and dental care for $1 a week. The company provides heating and air conditioning, clean drinking water, work breaks, a lunch program, and even a massage service. The company also spent $300,000 last year to pay workers for time off when production slowed down. The company does not have a union, but Charney says he would not oppose a union drive.

But Charney says the most important things for workers, who are mainly immigrants from Mexico and Central America, is that they are respected and have workplace rights.

"We get people who have suffered the most — the people who have suffered the most racial discrimination and the people who come from the poorest parts of those countries," he says. "What we really provide the people more than anything else is dignity; the dignity to be seen as a human being and the dignity to be part of the company."

Contact: American Apparel: (213) 488-0226 | www.americanapparel.net