From Tue Sep 9 16:00:05 2003
Date: Tue, 9 Sep 2003 14:41:50 EDT
Subject: Demand union rights in the new free trade zone in Haiti

Action Alert—Demand union rights in the new free trade zone in Haiti

Issued by the Haiti Support Group, 8 September 2003

The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) is poised to loan a Dominican company US$23 million to help it establish a new free trade zone across the border in Haiti.

If the loan goes ahead, the Dominican garment assembly company, Grupo M, will use US$3 million specifically to build factories where Haitian workers will assemble clothes for companies such as Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger.

The Haiti Support Group is demanding that the Haitian workers have the right to form trade unions in these factories, and are able to carry out union activities without any repression or victimisation.

The IFC says Grupo M will allow unions to function because the US garment companies that it will supply acknowledge union rights in their codes of conduct. However, this is no guarantee whatsoever as workers at the US-owned Tarrant Mexico-Ajalpan factory in Puebla, Mexico, have recently found out.

The Mexican Example

In June 2003, workers formed the Only Independent Union of Tarrant Mexico Company Workers (Sindicato Unico Independiente de Trabajadores de la Empresa Tarrant Mexico—SUITTAR). By the end of July, over 700 workers had joined SUITTAR, at which time the company, in a clear attempt to break the union, began near-daily firings of those workers involved in it. By mid-August, over 150 unionised workers had been fired.

What’s the connection? Two of the Tarrant Mexico-Ajalpan factory’s main clients are Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger. These same two apparel companies will be main clients of Grupo M, and will be supplied by the factories at new free trade zone near Ouanaminthe in Haiti.

Clearly the existence of codes of conduct has not stopped the management of the Tarrant Mexico-Ajalpan factory from disregarding the right to unionise.

The Dominican Example

On 5 September, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) released a report on the abuse of workers’ rights in Free Trade Zones. The report includes allegations that Grupo M has employed armed thugs to beat and intimidate workers who try to form independent trade unions in its factories in the Dominican Republic.

One worker at FM1, a Dominican factory owned by Grupo M, gave the ICFTU the following testimony about what happened when workers formed a union in 2002: Union members were chased by the gang members at work, and physically attached with metal tubes, hammers, and machetes. These attacks were carried out inside and outside of the factory. When inside, they were carried out in full view of managers, and workers, and with the explicit support of company security. Of the 18 original members of the union committee, only one remains in the factory one year later.

Make sure that Haitian workers don’t suffer the same fate!


The first factory in Grupo M’s new Free Trade Zone in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, has already opened, and 300 workers there are sewing together Levi’s jeans. We must support these workers’ right to unionise.

Demand that the World Bank’s IFC insists that Grupo M vows publicly to allow union organising and collective bargaining in the factories in the Ouanaminthe Free Zone before the IFC agrees to any loan.

Send your email to:—Brian McNamara, Investment Officer, International Finance Corporation, Washington DC.

Please also cc the Haiti Support Group at:

If in the US, please cc your email to:—Carole Brookins, Executive Director of the US delegation to the IMF and World Bank;

If in the UK, please cc your email to:, Nicholas Joicey, Policy Advisor to the Executive Director, UK delegation to the IMF and World Bank.

A model letter demanding IFC support for union rights in the new free trade zone in Haiti can be found at the Haiti Support Group web site-What’s New page: