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Dignity Return
Jamais Cascio, 17 Jan 04

It's one thing to talk about alternatives to globalization. It's quite another to build one.

Dignity Return is a Thai clothing label produced by a tiny textile factory, but it's also a signal flare notifying the world that the choice faced by the developing world isn't simply between exploitation and isolation.

A group of Thai textile workers were made jobless by the collapse of their mismanaged employer. Rather than seek work at yet another garment factory run by remote owners, they decided to band together to start a clothing factory run -- and owned -- by its own workers. Dignity Return is dedicated to showing that it's possible to be a part of the global economic system without exploiting labor.

''Working in this factory is different from factories I have worked in earlier. There is no exploitation or abuse. No labour violations,'' says Sunee, a slim-built woman with shoulder-length hair. ''This place is unique because of that.''

Pausing from the work she was doing on a shirt, Kanchana says that to begin with, the factory ''is completely owned by the workers'' and there is freedom for the ''workers to express our views and get involved in decisions for the factory''.


Other details set the factory apart from the 2,641 garment factories that dot this country's urban and rural landscape. The workers do not have to wear a uniform, music from radios fills the open, airy factory floor, and the walls are adorned with posters that celebrate labour rights.

The story of a group of former co-workers banding together to start up a scrappy challenger to incumbent businesses is a familiar one in the United States, but is far less commonplace is the developing world. Dignity Return will not have an easy path ahead. The company is not yet a year old, and has not yet paid off all of its initial loans. The management model (collective decision-making) will likely prove difficult to handle as the company grows, and competitors, unhappy with the idea of an employee-owned challenger, will likely do whatever they can to drive Dignity Return out of business. Still, the seed has been planted; even if this company fails, the ideas it embodies will not die.

Representatives from Dignity Return will be speaking this week at the World Social Forum in Mumbai.

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Keep up the good work,

Posted by: Eline Glas on 25 Jan 04



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