Apparel Sourcing Intelligence - Worldwide

Haitians disenchanted with garment industry results

Among America’s top 25 apparel supplying countries, Haiti’s 14.6 growth in apparel exports to the US  was the third fastest in 2013, and its garment workers earn the highest wages of any Least Developed Country selling clothes to the  US. Yet at the end of the year, the industry remained tense as unions pressed for a 180% pay rise – while activists complained both that union organisers were being victimised and  how few garment jobs have been created since the  earthquake four years ago on January 12, 2010, and the country’s President announced elections would be held during 2014

Concerns ostensibly revolved around four separate issues:

  • Minimum wage level Haiti’s theoretical minimum wage id 200 gourdes ($4.60) a day, though in most cases factories are supposed to pay 50% more if productivity targets are met. The government proposed as 12.5% increase in December, while a group of unions proposed a 180% rise. Demonstrations over the union claim in early December  led to the closure of an industrial estate as factories alleged violent intimdatoin of non-striking workers.  Though the new minimum was due to come into force on January 1, no decree requiring it has been issued, as the government tries to calm tensions. There is no indication of when a decision will be made. Though the issue has raised great worker anger, no public case for almost trebling the wage has been made: the generally pro-Worker Guardian newspaper  has argued about Haiti’s “consumer price index increasing 124% in the past decade” – but accepts that the country’s minimum wage has gone up three-fold in the same period. 
  • Alleged worker intimidation As a result of the December strikes, six members of the organising committee of a major union were fired on January 8 from One World Apparel. This has clearly not calmed anti-garment factory agitators
  • The “wage theft” argument. The system of a two-level minimum wage is unpopular with unions, who argue that productivity targets are set at unachievable levels, and that factories have “stolen” the incentive wages that would have been paid if targets were more “realistic”. This argument has now escalated. Activists now claim the primary Haitian vendors that supply Hanesbrands – GMC and Multiwear – have combined about 3,600 employees who are collectively “owed” about $10.6 million in back pay, over several years – as well as another $3 million in interest on the “stolen” back pay.
  • The slow pace of job creation. The Caracol project was supposed in 2011 to be creating 60,000 jobs: the New York Times has claimed just 2,590 have been created. This may not just be a slow build up of investment,  Haiti’s attraction to US buyers lies partly in its being able to use Asian raw materials and still be eligible for duty free access: but in the 11 months to November (ie: 94.5% of then tariff quota year), Haiti  had used 92% of its allowance of Asian fabric. With export growth at 14%, and the limit on duty free exports growing just 5% in 2014, Haiti has virtually run out of duty-free availability.

This is all causing some irritation among some Haitian workers and their foreign supporters.

But there is a fifth cause of anger, which rarely gets noticed in the West. Haïtí-Liberté, written mostly in French,  is the claimed to be the largest circulation weekly in Haiti and its diaspora. In its January 8 edition it says:

“The earthquake of Jan. 12 quite simply served as a pretext for the International Community to accelerate its neoliberal programme and to reinforce its occupation of the country…To escape this straitjacket, we have only one choice, drive all the imperialists from our shores,”

As in Cambodia, a group, of political activists seem to be trying to exploit garment workers’ understandable dissatisfactions for a completely different agenda – in which the garment industry has no role. The implications of this will no doubt emerge more clearly as campaigning around the 2014 elections, announced on January 13 by  the country’s President Joseph Martelly, gears up