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The real Disney world - it's in Haiti

By Daniel Vila, People's Weekly World, 21 December 1996

NEW YORK - How can Michael Eisner, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, afford to pay himself $97,600 an hour? Easy. He contracts manufacturers who pay workers in Haiti who sew Pocahantas, Mickey Mouse and other Disney clothing for 28 cents an hour.

Responding to this and many other abusive conditions prevalent in the factories where The Disney Company gets its clothing manufactured, some 200 persons demonstrated in front of the Disney Store in midtown Manhattan Dec. 14. The National Labor Committee, a non-profit human rights advocacy group which has exposed the link between U.S. multinationals and sweatshops around the world, organized the protest.

Thousands of Christmas shoppers going into the store and passing by it were surprised to see protesters dressed up as Santa Claus, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and other Disney characters. Demonstrators passed out leaflets denouncing Disney's link to production shops with horrendous working conditions.

Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, detailed the abuses in An Open Letter to Walt Disney. He wrote the letter earlier this year after returning from Haiti where he witnessed the conditions under which Disney manufactures the clothing which carries its label. Disney has contracted L.V. Myles and H.H. Cutler, which in turn contract production to L.V. Myles, N.S. Mart, Classic and Gilanex in Haiti.

In his letter Kernaghan states that N.S. Mart, located in the Sonapi Industrial Park, pays its workers 28 cents an hour. But to earn this a worker on the assembly line had to handle 375 Pocahantas shirts an hour. A week's salary was not enough to buy one of the shirts which sell at Wal-Mart for $10.97.

At a secret meeting with Kernaghan, workers told him management screamed and threatened them and young women are subjected to sexual assault by management. Toilets are filthy and there are rats everywhere, including dead ones in the water tank.

Mickey's for Kids Stuff is made at the Classic Apparel factory which is managed by John Paul Medina, a former member of the Fraph Death Squad which killed thousands of Haitians during the dictatorship. When President Jean- Bertrande Aristide raised the minimum wage, Medina responded by increasing the daily piece rate quota from 720 to 1,200 collars in eight hours.

Working conditions at other factories visited by Kernaghan were just as miserable. There are no applicable labor codes and even being suspected of trying to organize to improve working conditions is enough to get anyone fired.

Living conditions for the working class are deplorable. Since milk is too expensive, children are given sugar water. Parents are unable to afford medicines or meat for their children. Cough syrup costs a day's wage, $1.54, and a can of powdered milk $3.08. Since workers' neighborhoods do not have running water they must buy it by the bucket. A one- room shack may be home for an entire family, and often several families must share a hole in the ground as a toilet.

Kernaghan's letter lists four proposals which the workers made to Disney: 1) that Disney send representatives to meet with them so that they may learn what their working and living conditions are.

2) help clean up the factories and guarantee respect for human rights including the right to organize.

3) an increase in wages to 58 cents an hour.

4) that local human rights organizations have access to the factories to monitor conditions as they do with factories contracted by the GAP.

The demonstration in front of the Disney Store ended with a march up Fifth Avenue. Nick Unger from the Union of Needle, Industrial and Textile Employees told the crowd Disney had to be made responsible for the sweatshop conditions in Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti and New York.