Latest news on campaigns to support garment assembly workers employed in sweatshops run by South Korean and Dominican companies

Issued by the Haiti Support Group on 25 November 2003

For background, please see the Haiti Support Group’s Campaign in support of new unions and workers’ organisations:

2. Grupo M—Ouanaminthe

Garment assembly production is well-underway at the first factory to open in the new free trade zone near Ouanaminthe on the Haitian side of the border with the Dominican Republic. According to the Miami Herald, in October the Grupo M-run plant was producing about 8,000 pairs of black Levi’s 505 and 550 jeans each week, with about 260 employees. On 3 November, the Haiti Support Group followed up on media reports of low pay and arbitrary dismissal in the Grupo M factory by writing to the Grupo M director, Fernando Capellan. However, neither he nor his underlings have (as yet) seen fit to reply.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the World Bank/IFC decision to grant Grupo M a US$20m. loan on the condition that it respect workers’ right to unionise to defend their rights, on 13 October, the First of May—Batay Ouvriye union federation wrote to Grupo M to request a meeting to discuss the unionisation of workers in the Ouanaminthe free zone. Grupo M’s Ouanaminthe project manager, Limbert Cruz, replied saying that Grupo M intended to meet with all labour organisations in Haiti in November. The Batay Ouvriye union federation countered that, as its organisers were already present and active in Ouanaminthe, an earlier and more specific meeting than the one suggested would be appropriate.

To its credit, on 5 November, Grupo M’s Cruz replied, writing that Grupo M director Capellan indeed recognises and acknowledges the proactive effort on the part of Batay reach out to Grupo M first, and the fact that your organisation has a strong and active presence in the North of Haiti, and he does wish to have an open line of communication and positive relations. Therefore, in the immediate term, he has asked me, as the senior Grupo M executive running the plant in Ouanaminthe, to set up a meeting between your organisation and myself, as soon as is mutually convenient to exchange views.

Grupo M also forwarded a Creole version of its code of conduct which, it said, had been explained to the Ouanaminthe employees and is posted in the factory.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positive news runs dry. On 6 November, the First of May—Batay Ouvriye union federation replied to the offer of a meeting in the affirmative, and suggesting a date soon after 19 November. Since then, there has been no response from Grupo M.

The Haiti Support Group believes that the Willbes & Co, the Haitian Manufacturers’ Association, and Grupo M—if they respond at all—will plead a lack of time and other important work distractions as reasons for their inability to address legitimate concerns or establish a sincere dialogue. However, this is quite plainly NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

The employers’ disregard for our initiatives is yet another example of the dangers of relying on codes of conduct, and on fine sounding words, in short, of relying on the goodwill of the bosses, and confirms the importance of the need to support workers in their efforts to organise to defend themselves.