Date: Thu, 4 Jan 1996 19:46:37 GMT
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From: Arm The Spirit <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 13:41 01/03/96
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
This Week in Haiti 13:41 01/03/96
This Week in Haiti,
The dewy eyes and beguiling smile of Walt Disney's newest animated star, Pocahontas, may have charmed children the world over this Christmas. But in Haiti, Pocahontas symbolizes a living hell for many of the young women toiling in the country's assembly zones, according to a new report released last month.
Workers stitching clothing emblazoned with feel-good Disney characters
are not even paid enough to feed themselves, let alone their families,
charges the New York-based National Labor Committee Education Fund in
Support of Worker and Human Rights in Central America (NLC).
contractors producing Mickey Mouse and Pocahontas pajamas for
U.S. companies under license with the Walt Disney Corporation are in
some cases paying workers as little as 15 gourdes (US$1) per day -- 12
cents an hour -- in clear violation of Haitian law, said the
NLC. Along with starvation wages, Haitian workers making clothes for
U.S. corporate giants face sexual harassment and exceedingly long
hours of work.
Haiti does need economic development and Haitian
workers do need jobs, but not at the price of violating workers'
fundamental rights. Paying 11 cents an hour to sew dresses for Kmart
is not development. It is crime, charged the NLC.
Over the past two decades, U.S. State Department officials have
consistently prescribed development of the
as the antidote to Haitian poverty. In the early 1980s, about 250
factories employed over 60,000 Haitian workers in Port- au-Prince. The
minimum wage then was US$2.64 a day. But many sweat-shops fled Haiti
after the fall of the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986. Others
left shortly after the election of Jean- Bertrand Aristide in 1990,
who campaigned with nationalist rhetoric, and still more left after
the 1991 coup d'etat.
But Haiti's miserable condition today makes it an ideal
in the world labor market, say U.S. State Department officials, and
the assembly zones are again at the heart of the Structural Adjustment
Program (SAP) for Haiti now being peddled by the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID), the World Bank, and the
International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Still, the recovery of the assembly zones remains weak. Only 72
assembly firms employing some 13,000 people had been re- established
by September 1995, according to a Haitian government
agency. International financial institutions argue that Haiti must
lower the other costs of assembly production like port, telephone and
electricity fees. Hence, the World Bank is pushing for U.S. companies
to take control of these key sectors through the privatization of
Haiti's publicly owned industries. Meanwhile, SAP strategists argue,
wages must be kept low and
But the National Labor Committee (NLC), and Haitian workers, contend
that the assembly zones in Haiti, like those in the rest of the
Caribbean and Central America, are zones for slavery.
factory owners and American corporations are profiting from the low
wages, Haitian workers are struggling every day just to feed
themselves and their families, noted the NLC report, entitled,
to Get Rich on 11 Cents an Hour.
In particular, the report notes how factory owners are trying to avoid
paying Haiti's new minimum wage of 36 gourdes per day (US$2.40) and
charges that more than half of the 40 textile assembly firms operating
in Haiti at the time of the NLC's research in August 1995 were
violating the minimum wage law. President Aristide raised the minimum
wage last May from 15 to 36 gourdes per day. Although it was the first
wage hike since 1984, the NLC notes that the new minimum wage
worth less in real terms than the old minimum wage of 15 gourdes was
worth in 1990... And since Oct. 1, 1980, when dictator Jean-Claude
Baby Doc) Duvalier first set the minimum wage at 13.20 gourdes, the
real value of the minimum wage has declined by almost 50%.
In the 12-page report, the NLC saves some of its sharpest criticism
for giant U.S. corporations, like Sears, Wal-Mart and Walt Disney
Company, which contract out to U.S. and Haitian firms. At a Quality
Garments factory, making Mickey Mouse pajamas, employees reported that
last summer they had worked 50 days straight, up to 70 hours per week,
without a day off.
One worker told the NLC that she was supposed to
sew seams on 204 pairs of Mickey Mouse pajamas in a day for which she
would be paid 40 gourdes ($2.67). But she was only able to complete
144 pairs for which she was paid 28 gourdes (US$1.87), said the NLC.
The report noted that Michael Eisner, the CEO of Disney, earned $203
million in 1993, about 325,000 times the salary of workers in
If a typical Haitian worker worked full-time, six days a week
sewing clothes for Disney, it would take her approximately 1,040 years
to earn what Michael Eisner earned in one day in 1993, said the
Overall, the NLC found a
pattern of abuses, including low wages, so
low, in fact, that a factory owner told the NLC that, 'The workers
can't work effectively because they don't eat enough.' The report
calculates that a family in Port-au-Prince must spend -- at the very
least -- 363 gourdes, or $24.20, per week for food, shelter, and
But a minimum wage earner, working 8 hours a day, 6 days a
week, takes home 216 gourdes per week, or less than 60% of a family's
basic needs, said the report.
The NLC lays much of the blame for the deteriorating conditions of
Haitian workers at the doorstep of USAID, which committed $8 million
of U.S. taxpayer money to promoting foreign investment in Haiti this
The U.S. government has shown a commitment to aggressively
court U.S. business to invest in Haiti, but it has shown no such
commitment to the workers who produce for those U.S. companies, the
NLC argues, noting that USAID has historically pressured the Haitian
government to keep wages low.
Now, the NLC, which is affiliated with textile unions in the United
States, sees that the low wages in Haiti will be used to try to
depress the wages of other workers in the Americas.
are extremely attractive and lower than in the Dominican Republic,
Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, other major
assembly zone operations. In other words, Haiti defines the wage floor
for the entire Western Hemisphere, said the report. Haiti is
presently way out in front in the race to the bottom.
[For further information, or to order copies of the report, contact: The National Labor Committee Education Fund, 15 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003-3377 Tel: 212-242-0700]