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Garment production
in Haitian export processing zones

Action Alert, Campaign for Labor Rights, 8 August 1998

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. After decades of foreign intervention and political unrest a more democratic system was established in 1994. The primary aim of the government now in office is to build up the haitian economy and to create employment. One way of achieving this is through attracting foreign investors.

USAID is the US government agency in charge of providing economic support to Haiti. It states, however, that USAID has no position on the violations of the Haitian minimum wage law. This comment came after several years in which USAID has actively pressured President Aristide not to increase the minimum wage. The main interest USAID proves to have is direct assistance to US businesses and thereby to keep it's influence in Haiti. Still, in 1995 the legal minimum wage was raised from 15 gourdes ($1) a day to 36 gourdes ($2,40) a day to make an end to the severest worker abuses. The law requires employers to ensure that piece-rate workers earn at least the minimum wage.

In practice more than half of the approximately 50 assembly plants producing in Haiti for the U.S. market are paying less than the legal minimum wage.

Even if a company does pay the minimum wage, workers earn $14.40 a week, working 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. A full-time minimumwage salary provides less than 60% of a family's basic needs. A wage of $1.- a day, common in appparel plants producing for U.S. companies, provides less than 25% of a family's basic needs. in order to satisfy the minimum needs for food, shelter and education a family in Port-au-Prince must spend at the very least 363 gourde- $24.40 per week. Haitian factory owners claim that they can't afford to pay more than they do, and complain that higher wages will make them lose business to firms in other countries in the Carribean.

Meanwhile, wages in Haiti are the lowest in the wide region. Other grievances of workers in the apparel industry are threats if they try to organise and claim the right to collective bargainig, illegal firings, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, no access to potable water not enough sanitary facilities, no adequate lighting and ventilation and the constant pressure to work at an enourmous speed.

Some examples of companies producing for the U.S. market are:

Despite these problems Batay Ouvriye (workers struggle) tries to organise workers and supports the ones which already exists. batay Ouvriye was formed in the early 1990's after the elction of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The three year military coup 1991-1994 seriously impended the work. After the return of formal democracy in september 1994 Batay Ouvriye was able to increase it's contact with assembly plant workers.

Many of the exisiting groups are peasant- and landless labourers groups. It is much harder to organise factory workers in the free trade zones. Batay Ouvriye gives legal advice, support for organising and publicity purposes and it has co-ordinated protests in favour of a minimum wage increase and for the improvementws to the country's labour code. Batay Ouvriye continues to circulate leaflets to workers outside factories in the industrial park. In co-operation with the National Labour Committee, Batay Ouvriye has been working on a grand Disney Campaign.

In order to gain influence Yannick Etienne seeks contact with unions, workers organisations and women's organisations in other producer countries, especially where Disney items and NIKE products are being produced.

Yannick Etienne
Batay Ouvriye
PO Box 13326
Delmas Port-au-Prince
Haiti WI
Tel: 011-509-2-6719

You can also contact:

Charles Arthur
Haiti Support Group
Trinity Church Hodford Road
London NW11 8NG
tel & fax 0181 201 9878
email: haitisupport@gn.apc.org

In 14 factories Walt Disney products are made, and while Disney claims that all workers earn more than the minimum wage this is a point of discusion.

The minimum wage on haiti is 36 gourdes a day, e.g. $2.40. But the wage which is being paid out is related to production quotas, if a worker doesn't reach the piece rate, she is paid less. At national sewing contractors, under contract with L.V. Myles, one of the Disney licencees, workers were found to only earn $1,- a day, which comes down to earning 12 cents an hour! It is possible to earn a bonus but the high piece-rate prevents even the most experienced women to ever reach it. So, in practice the legal set minimum wage is in effect the maximum paid by Walt Disney licencees. Mickey Mouse and Pocahontas pajamas are sold at Wal-mart, Sears and J.C. Penny Workers do try to organise especially around the issue of wage levels but also in order to fight sexual harassment,verbal abuses, threats and for the right of collective bargainig.

By law all workers have the right to organise. Frequently, though, it has happened that some workers were picked out haphazzardly and being blaimed for the initiative to form a union, and consequently were fired.

L.V. Myles pays it's workers about half the minimum living wage, workers are forced to produce at an inhuman rate, under constant verbal abuses and threats of being laid off or fired. The majority of the workers are women and victim of constant sexual harassment and abuse from their supervisors. On May 12 1997 , a flyer protesting these abusive conditions and calling for workers to organise to defend their rights was cirdulated anonymously inside the L.V. Myles factory. The same week 4 workers were arbritarily fired and a systematic campaign of intimidation was started by the management, with threats of an impending 40 additional firings. By using such repressive tactics management is clearly trying to illegally stop the workers from organising to defend their rights and to root out all supected combative workers form the plant.

Despite recent protests in Haiti and in the USA, the abuses that had been reproted at the L.V. Myles plant are continuing. After a bief period when the management took some measures to respond to protests of worker harassment and abuses, these practices are resurging. Again, in June 20 workers were fired after they had completed a 3 month training period, even though they were fully experienced, some of whom have been working in garment manufacturing for over 10 years. After being fired, the same workers are then allowed to re-enlist as trainees. The purpose of these firings is to avoid paying benefits such as vacation days and sick days to these workers and to keep them at a lower wage scale.

L.V. Myles has also introduced new lines of garment production with quotas that are similar in scale to the very same quotas that were denounced as inhuman and that the manegement had cut back (i.e. 1800 operations a day). Workers at the L.V. Myles plant are continuing to protest their abusive treatment. despite the firings of about 30 workers since May, the struggle goes on. Flyers are still being distributed inside the plant and the workers have shown their resolve not to bow down to management's threats. The workers at L.v. Myles call on international solidarity to help them in their struggle against L.V. Myles and Walt Disney.

Workers demand the following:

You can write letters to;

Jr. Jeff Blatt; L.V. Myles Company, Parc industriel SONAPI #30 Port-au-Prince, Haiti tel: 509-46-4644 fax: 509-49-1565 Mr. Paul Miller, L.V. Myles corporation 135 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10036-6712 tel: 212 725 0900 fax 212 725 0922

Classic Apparel sold under League leader label at Wal-Mart; jerseys produced for H.H. Cutler Co, subsidiary of V.F. corporations, maker of Wrangler and Lee jeans, and Disney items.

On February 26 workers at classic Apparel stopped sewing Walt Disney Pocahontas dresses for two hours to protest the management's refusal to hear their grievances. After 5 months of stalling, factory owner Marie-Claude Bayard met with the employees March5, but refused to consider any of their demands. instead, Bayard hired security guards to intimidate the workers. Workers at Classic Apparel are pushing ahead with demands for a salary of 75 gourdes ($4.68) a day and lower daily production quotas, despite the new threat from security guards. Guards told one worker, : If you get in the way of my gun, it's your fault. The workers keep planning work stoppages.

The chief executive officer of Walt Disney, Michael Eisner, earned $203 millin from salary and stock options in 1993, which amounts to $97,600 per hour. In 1994 his salary alone amounted $8,029,000. In 1996 Michael Eisner's salary amounted $8.7 Million , combined with $181 million in stock options. This brought his total compensation of 1996 to over $189.7 million= $101,000 an hour! Walt Disney's profit amounted $1,110,400,000 in 1994, still the company claims that it cannot pay more to the producers of Disney items.

Disney is asked to actually implement it's code of conduct, which in fact is not a bad one.
The main points in this code are:

We expect these same commitments to be shared by all manufacturers of Disney merchandise. At a minimum, we require that all manufacturers of Disney meet the following standards:

Walt Disney does not seem to make much of an effort to make sure it suppliers live up to it. Nobody wants Disney to pull out of Haiti, though, but Disney must set a standard. They could double wages without any impact on profit and immeasurably improve the lives of Haitian people.