Letter to Apparel Brands and Retailers Sourcing from Haiti

December 2, 2013

An Appeal to Apparel Brands and Retailers Sourcing from Haiti:

Nearly four years after the powerful earthquake that devastated Haiti’s capital and surrounding areas, promises of a recovery that would set the Haitian people on a path to economic development and social justice appear to be forgotten. Jobs in export garment factories, making clothes for top North American brands and retailers, have been promoted as a panacea for the economic misery of Haiti’s people.  Yet the truth is that North American apparel companies have been complicit in the exploitation of Haitian workers - the most vulnerable in our hemisphere - by refusing to require their supplier factories to pay these workers the country’s legal minimum wage.

We, the undersigned civil, human and worker rights organizations, are voicing our deep concern about systematic wage theft that is happening in garment factories in Haiti. Both the International Labor Organization and International Finance Corporation’s Better Work Haiti factory monitoring program and the Worker Rights Consortium have documented wholesale noncompliance with Haiti’s minimum wage laws in the country’s export apparel factories.

We are particularly disturbed that these wage violations are happening while these factories are supplying North America’s top apparel companies, including HanesBrands, and are receiving preferential treatment through trade legislation intended to strengthen the Haitian garment industry – and despite the fact that Haiti’s minimum wage for export garment workers is the lowest in our hemisphere.

Factories in Haiti supplying top North American brands and retailers routinely, and illegally, cheat workers of substantial portions of their pay. Tacitly complicit in this wage theft are major apparel companies including HanesBrands as well as Levi Strauss & Co., Kohl’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart, that profit from the lower prices they can pay to factories that violate the law.

The recently released Worker Rights Consortium report, “Stealing from the Poor: Wage Theft in Haitian Apparel Industry,” reveals the extent to which this systematic illegal deprivation of wages is preventing Haitian garment workers and their families from meeting even their most basic needs.

The WRC report reveals that wage theft in the country’s garment industry has only increased over the past few years to the point where workers are being denied 1/3 of their legally-due wages. Earlier this year, Better Work Haiti reported that every single one of the country’s export garment factories was violating the country’s legal minimum wage.

Haiti’s minimum wage was recently increased (to approximately $.82 an hour) because it was widely understood that workers were receiving starvation wages. Many of the factory workers in Haiti’s capital live in tents or shanty communities, still homeless since they were victims of the 2010 earthquake.  Sadly, factory jobs that promised to lift them out of poverty seem to merely hold them there. Gender Action’s brand new report on the IDB and USAID-funded Caracol garment assembly plants, “Caracol Industrial Park: Social and Gender Impacts of Year One of Haiti’s Newest IFI-Funded Industrial Park”, corroborates these findings.

Immediately after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Americans from all walks of life donated money and goods to Haiti, and supported policies that would help Haitians rebuild their country, including through the expansion of the export garment sector. The systematic theft of wages from workers in Haitian garment factories, the hemisphere’s most vulnerable apparel workers, is an affront to not only to Haitians, but also to Americans who contributed both tax dollars and charitable donations to help Haiti rebuild after the earthquake. 

In light of the evidence of widespread wage theft in the Haitian garment sector presented by Better Work Haiti, the Worker Rights Consortium, and Gender Action, and to support a more just future for the Haitian people, we call on your and other North American apparel companies doing business in Haiti to:

 

·         Require your supplier factories in Haiti to pay regular production workers in accordance with the country’s legal minimum wage standard of U.S. $6.97 per day. Assure these factories that your company is willing to maintain  business with them, and pay sufficient prices for garments, so that these factories can pay the legal minimum wage while preserving jobs for Haitian workers.

 

·         Work with these factories to ensure that workers who have been denied legally-earned wages by being paid below the legal minimum are fully compensated.

This matter deserves your immediate attention and we hope for a quick and just remedy to this troubling situation.

Sincerely,

Black Leadership Forum

Rainbow PUSH Coalition

TransAfrica

A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI)

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU)

Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs Solidarité Ouvrière

Haiti Adolescent Girls Network

Haiti Justice Alliance

Haiti Support Group

Haitian Sustainable Development Foundation

Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti

Action Aid USA

Mennonite Central Committee

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers

Gender Action

Rights Action

Service Employees International Union

American Federation of Government Employees

American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

UNITE HERE

United Steelworkers

Fair World Project

Organic Consumers Association

Clean Clothes Campaign  

United Students Against Sweatshops

International Labor Rights Forum / SweatFree Communities

Jewish Labor Committee

Jobs with Justice

Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN)

War on Want

SumOfUs

Warehouse Workers United

Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Aberdeen SD

Sisters of Providence – Mother Joseph Province Leadership Team

Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison, KS

Green America

Agricultural Missions, Inc (AMI)

Batay Ouvriye

Fondasyon Ayizan Velekete

Global Exchange

Grassroots International

Health and Human Rights Clinic, Indiana University McKinney School of Law

Just Foreign Policy

Miami Law Human Rights Clinic

Other Worlds

PAPDA, The Haitian Platform to Advocate for an Alternative Development

Quixote Center

Solidarity Committee of the Capital District, Albany, NY

SOIL (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods)

XminY - hét actiefonds

9to5

Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network (ARSN)

Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Network, Boston, USA

Berkeley Sweatfree Coalition.

Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs Solidarité Ouvrière

Civil Service Employee Association, Local 1000 AFSCME, AFL-CIO

Dominican Sisters of Houston

Ecosocialist Horizons

Ethix Ventures, Inc.

Fast Food Forward New York

Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec

Food Chain Workers Alliance
Hesperian Health Guides

Jewish Labor Committee Western Region

Labor-Religion Coalition of the Finger Lakes

Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State

Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy

Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment

Milwaukee Worker Organizing Committee

New England Jewish Labor Committee

North Carolina Raise Up

Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace (OMJP)

People's Health Movement-USA

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)

Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition

San Francisco Living Wage Coalition

SEIU Local 1

Sommers Employment Law Group, P.C.

The South Sound Clean Clothes Campaign

Sustainable Equity Value Ltd.

Sweatfree NYS Coalition

SweatFree Washington

Traditions Fair Trade

UFCW Local 75 in Cincinnati

Union Syndicale Solidaires (France)

UNIFOR

Washington Fair Trade Coalition

Workers' Action Centre

Workers United

Worksafe

Ron Daniels, Haiti Support Project

Mark Schuller, Department of Anthropology and Center for NGO Leadership and Development, Northern Illinois University

Mark Snyder, Independent Human Rights Activist, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Peter Bohmer, Department of Political Economy, Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA

Rabbi Michael E. Feinberg, Executive Director, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition

Father Tom Johnson-Medland, CSJ, OSL, CEO Lighthouse Hospice

Barbara Larcom, Casa Baltimore/Limay

David Wilson, Weekly News Update on the Americas

View the PDF here.