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 of 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, 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 like Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart that profit from the lower prices they can pay to factories that violate the law.
The newly 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 of the hemisphere’s poorest population 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 tent 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.
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 and the Worker Rights Consortium, and to support a more just future for the Haitian people, we call on North American apparel companies doing business in Haiti to:
- To require their 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 these brands and retailers are willing to maintain their business with them, and pay sufficient prices for garments, so that these factories to 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.