Stolen Wages in Haiti

Last week the Workers Rights Consortium issued a report on garment factories in Haiti that sew for major U.S. brands. The report found:

…garment factory owners in Haiti routinely, and illegally, cheat workers of substantial portions of their pay, depriving them of any chance to free their families from lives of grueling poverty and frequent hunger.

Tacitly complicit in this theft of wages are the major North American apparel brands and retailers, like Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart, that are buyers of garments from Haiti. Although most, if not all, of these firms are well-aware of this law-breaking, they continue with business as usual, profiting from the lower prices that they can obtain from factories that cheat their workers of legally owed wages.

Despite the presence in Haiti, since 2009, of a factory monitoring program operated by International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and funded by both the U.S. and Canadian governments and major brands and retailers, themselves, the extent of wage theft in the country’s garment industry has only increased over the past few years. Earlier this year, this ILO-IFC monitoring program, termed “Better Work Haiti,” reported that every single one of the country’s 24 export garment factories was illegally cheating workers of pay by failing to comply with the country’s legal minimum wage.

Read the full report here

One of the facilities profiled in the report is the Caracol Industrial Park, which is the flagship project of USAID’s efforts to assist Haiti’s reconstruction post the 2010 earthquake. Caracol, an industrial park built far from where the earthquake did damage, on land seized from farmers, and an almost guaranteed environmental disaster, was handed over to SAE-A, a South Korean company, to manage. SAE-A has horrible record on labor rights. Indeed, the AFL-CIO lobbied the Obama Administration not to grant the management concession to SAE-A because of violations in Guatemala. The Administration ignored them. Stories of wage theft and other abuses emerged almost immediately upon the park opening.

In the wake of the report, TransAfrica joined with the Workers Rights Consortium to circulate a letter to major U.S. brands that have clothing sewn in Haiti, encouraging them to take the necessary steps to reign in the subcontractor labor abuse. The Quixote Center signed onto this letter, and we will be taking action with others if the response is inadequate.

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