Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Other Worlds

Other Worlds is an economic justice group that supports economic and social alternatives around the world.

May 20th, 2010 4:49 PM

Poverty Wage Assembly Plants as Development Strategy in Haiti: An Interview with the Center for Promotion of Women Workers

Written with Tory Field

The U.S. Congress has passed bi-partisan legislation, the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act, that would extend and expand current trade law with Haiti to increase U.S. imports of Haitian assembled textiles. Passed May 5 and 6 by the House and Senate, respectively, the bill is part of the push by U.S., U.N., other international leaders, and businesses to expand the low-wage assembly industry as the linchpin of Haiti’s post-earthquake recovery. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

“This important step responds to the needs of the Haitian people for more tools to lift themselves from poverty, while standing to benefit U.S. consumers,'' said a statement by former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton about the bill.[1]

The benefit of cheap imports for U.S. consumers is one matter, sweatshops as Horatio Alger tool another. To date, the assembly industry in Haiti has not provided poverty alleviation. Most factory workers live direly impoverished lives on the industry minimum wage of 125 gourdes (US$3.09) per day, without the opportunity to raise their pay, learn skills, or advance professionally. The right to unionize is protected in the constitution, but prohibited in practice by the standard management response of firing workers who attempt to form unions. The jobs are insecure, as factories can and do leave without notice to find cheaper labor or other conveniences elsewhere. The Canadian apparel manufacturer Gilden Activewear, for example, decided to quit Haiti within one day of the January 12 earthquake, shifting its Haiti- based operations to the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Honduras instead.[2] The factories offer little in the way of health or safety protections. Repetitive motion injuries and failing eyesight are only two of common occupational hazards.

Nor does the assembly industry offer a model of sustainable or sovereign national development. The products made in Haiti’s textile factories are not generally made out of Haitian fabric or on Haitian-made machinery. Once assembled, the goods are not consumed in Haiti but are shipped abroad. Haiti’s only role in the process is as a stopover in the production process, where cheap labor keeps profit margins high.

The HELP Act expands on the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act of 2008 (HOPE II), which removes tariffs on certain types and quantities of Haitian-assembled garments into the U.S. HELP would increase the volume of fabrics that are eligible to be imported into the U.S. from Haiti duty-free, from 70 million square meter equivalents to 200 million. It would also extend to 2020 the time frame of the trade relationship.

The U.S is joined by the U.N. in placing sweatshops at the forefront of the post-earthquake rebuilding plan. The textile industry had already been given a leading role, prior to the earthquake, in the U.N.’s development plan for Haiti. The blueprint, written in 2009 by an Oxford University professor, Paul Collier, said, “The garments industry has the scope to provide several hundred thousand jobs to Haitians… It is truly important that this opportunity should be taken.”[3]

In a speech at a donor conference on Haiti in April 2009, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said of his trip to Haiti with U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton: “We saw children, well-fed by the World Bank and the World Food Program, happily going to school… We visited a textile factory, employing thousands of people that could easily become a prototype for many others…We friends of Haiti must work with the government and the private sector to create jobs and spur economic growth by taking full advantage of openings to international markets.”[4]

Other development models exist, based on promoting human capacity in conditions where poverty can truly abate and workers can take greater control over their lives. Haitian social movements have insisted that post-earthquake redevelopment must lead toward a just and equitable economy. For specific proposals, see “Haitian Led Reconstruction Development” and “Raising Up Another Haiti”.

The Haitian government is on board with assembly sector as priority, too. Discussion at the recent international donor conference on Haiti in New York on March 31 featured textiles, together with agriculture and tourism, as the basis of its post-earthquake recovery plan. According to the plan, “the Hope II law provides an initial framework for using Haiti’s comparative advantages, to benefit from its workforce…”[5]

The proposal submitted by the Haitian government to the March 31 donor conference called for building “regional development centres” for displaced people whom the government hopes to relocate outside of Port-au-Prince. Textile factories will play a critical role there. It claims that the success of these areas will “depend largely on incentives for industrial, commercial, and tourist development.”[6] President René Préval has said that an assembly factory will be constructed at the site of the tent camp Corail Cesselesse that the government has created near the town of Croix-des-Bouquets. On March 24, the Minister of Commerce announced the creation of three new free trade zones in and around Port-au-Prince.

Mirlene Joanis, the Director of Communications for the Center for the Promotion of Women Workers, has a different view of development. She spoke from the Center’s office, which is surrounded by factories in Port-au-Prince’s industrial park.

“What’s bizarre is that, while they say they count on the subcontracting [assembly] sector most for the creation of jobs, they can’t count on it for development. This industry can’t lead to development in Haiti because it’s so unstable. That’s the mark of this sector: instability. Today people find a job, tomorrow the factory goes somewhere else and they no longer have their jobs.

“Also, it’s one of the sectors that’s most marginalized, where the state least takes into account the rights of people. Regardless, the factories gets franchise privileges and tax privileges.

“These jobs can be a relief for people who have the illusion that they are working. The minimum wage is so low; it can’t resolve anyone’s daily problems. And it’s not just money; the workers have to have social advantages, such as the right to housing, right to health care, right to hygiene, to take transportation, right to food…. The totality of these social rights would add a lot to the value of minimum wage, but not one of them is respected. They don’t even give people potable water. They just buy tanks of untreated water in trucks; people have to buy their own little plastic sacks of water out of their 125 gourdes. I give this example as the most basic of rights, the right to drink water, but they don’t even offer that.

“They’ve been talking about HOPE II as though it’s Haiti’s salvation. But in a context where people’s rights are not respected, it can’t relieve the misery of the people.

“If union rights aren’t protected, there’s no way this sector will improve. People must be able to raise their demands and say, “Respect my rights.” That doesn’t exist. Even the movement for the minimum wage to be raised to 200 gourdes… people took to the streets to demand it at the last minute, but it ended badly for them. Many lost their job as a result. The state must enforce people’s rights so they have a vehicle for making their demands. We have to have a government that considers people’s rights.

“Our biggest problem in this sector is that we’re in an anarchic situation. The boss has money, he can call the minister. When the worker goes to ask for her rights to be respected, that means nothing. She can organize a union, but the boss will fire her immediately, and then there’s no more union.

“Marginalization is one of the biggest complaints in this country. Some groups are considered human beings, others aren’t. Some have rights, others don’t. As long as that is not resolved, they can come in with all the billions of dollars in reconstruction they want, but without the principle of respect for rights, we’re not going anywhere.

“But as for development from this sector, that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s just going from bad to worse, with no relief of the workers’ misery in sight.”

[1] Jacqueline Charles and Lesley Clark, “U.S. House passes textile trade bill for Haiti,” Miami Herald, May 6, 2010.

[2] Reuters, “Tshirt maker Gildan shifts ops after Haiti quake,” January 13, 2010.

[3] Paul Collier, “Haiti: From Natural Catastrophe to Economic Security. A Report for the Secretary-General of the United Nations,” January 2009.

[4] U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Remarks at High-level Donor Conference on Haiti, Washington, D.C., April 14, 2009, http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocus/sgspeeches/search_full.asp?statID=464

[5] Ibid.

[6] Government of the Republic of Haiti, “Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti,” March 2010.

Tags:

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States www.theonion.com WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract pando.com As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors pando.com If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa ...by Nick Turse www.michaelmoore.com Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 www.theguardian.com Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? www.huffingtonpost.com I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | RootsAction.org act.rootsaction.org The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

More in David Sirota's continuing series on the billionaire takeover of PBS: More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of...

Mar 3rd
12:35 PM
Read More

Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many? ...by Ray McGovern www.michaelmoore.com Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative...

Mar 2nd
9:25 PM
Read More

Latest from David Sirota on Enron billionaire John Arnold smuggling anti-pension propaganda into "neutral" institutions like PBS and now, the...

Mar 1st
12:58 PM
Read More

Second Guessing a Life: US Health Care System Robs Security and Human Dignity ...by Donna Smith michaelmoore.com The dysfunction of the US health care system...

Feb 27th
1:40 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles