The U.S. and U.N. have based their plan for Haiti’s redevelopment on the expansion of the assembly industry. Toward this end, the U.S. Congress passed legislation last month, which would expand benefits and income for U.S. investors yet again. Haitian workers will continue to earn $3.09 a day.
Worker rights groups are adamant that a sweatshop-based development model cannot advance either the country or its workers.
Here Frau Fiber, textile activist and former East German garment worker, considers why it is neither a sustainable nor humane development model.
Haiti is at the crossroads. What happened January 12, 2010 put the traditional way of doing things under the debris of the earthquake. The earthquake was one of the worst things that could have happened, but Haitians have to turn it into something positive. Haitians need to be their own agents of change and right now this is a good opportunity. There are so many things that can be done to shake up the traditional way things have always worked.
HOPE II [Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act of 2008; which removes tariffs on importing certain types and quantities of Haitian-assembled garments into the U.S.] is supposed to help Haiti in the garment assembly industry. Actually, what you have is U.S. companies benefiting by getting stuff assembled at a very low price for the U.S. market without paying taxes or customs. The US is saying, “More people will get jobs because of preferential trade access,” but the workers who are making those factories’ profits are not getting anything. No one even remembers them.
People in the factories are sweating hard and they don’t get anything. They need union rights, social support and social insurance. They need meals in the factories and funds for when there are problems. The legal minimum wage for assembly plants that manufacture for export is 125 gourdes ($3.09) per day. If you are earning by piece rate [paid per unit, such as a sleeve, instead of for the amount of time worked], they often set a minimum that you have to meet for a days work, but the piece rate is higher than what a worker can produce in an eight-hour shift. The result is the workers work longer but [instead of paying overtime] but are not compensated for working a 16 hour day.
Most piece rate quotas have gone up since the minimum wage increase [in 2009], and again since January 12. There are different gimmicks to make sure that salary isn’t paid. Now factories are rushing people, raising the piece rate quota [so people have to work faster or longer to make minimum wage]. Factories say they won’t pay the minimum wage because they have finical problems. Factory owners are say, “If you don’t want to stay with less pay, we have 50 people to replace you.” People are desperate for these jobs; they have lost their homes and are living in refugee camps and trying to rebuild their lives.
Haitians need better jobs, not more sweatshops. Workers should participate in designing their own working conditions and salaries and the whole environment. Haitians have to be able to make decisions democratically that are in the interest of the majority.
Haiti is a very small country. As Haiti alone, can’t get to the radical solutions that Haiti needs. It has to be a worldwide movement, in America, Europe, and Africa; this is why solidarity is so important. One hand has to give to the other. Haitians are a people who resist what they don’t like; this is one of their trademarks. They fought against one of the biggest powers [in the late 1790s and early 1800s] and got rid of the French colonists and had an anti-slavery revolution.
They have that experience as an example to live by, and can use it now to fight for an ethical garment industry in Haiti. Frau Fiber proposes models like Made in Haiti could be a possible solution.