Those moments where your fears become the reality are not easy. The pay scale at INDEPCO was a reality long before we arrived however we had been led to believe that it had an ethical structure in so far as it served the needs of the tailors. This is not the case. We are now delving into a complex challenge. We draw strength from a number of communities here and abroad that are engaging in the realm of ethical fashion.
It was a much needed wakeup call and one that we think we sub-consciously sensed before it was presented to us a in a very real way. We were misinformed on the pay scale of those who work at the INDEPCO factory. What we had believed was $40 US a day turns out to be $40 Haitian dollars or 200 Gourdes i.e. $5.00 US a day. A very drastic difference and one that is unacceptable in our eyes. That is the entry level pay. Those who have more experience can earn up to $8 US a day. Those in managerial positions are paid a salary, which is competitive in the Haitian market.
The good news is INDEPCO remains to be a favoured working environment for the tailors. One senior tailor has worked there 11 years and plans to remain. There is a sense of contentment leaving only the pay scale as the outstanding problem. We’ve observed the liberal expression of the employees as they talk, listen to music, eat and drink refreshments and work with fans, etc. There are a number of good things we could discuss. Forever the optimists yes!
Back to the hard bad truth. INDPECO is a minor increase in pay over other factories which pay 100-150 Gourdes a day, it is still however, not a wage that allows for sewers and tailors to gain purchasing power or to create a middle class. We have spoken immensely with those working in the factory as well as others living and working inHaiti. We have been informed that it is above minimum wage, but it is still not enough. From what we have gathered one needs to be paid $9 US a day. It is crazy to imagine that a sum so low as $9 is a wage worth discussing. We struggle with what to do. We want to pay at LEAST $9 a day. So, do we demand that those who work on our project get paid our bare minimum? We think yes, but will that create power dynamics within the factory- i.e. those working with us and those who are not on our contract?
The garment industry is not servingHaiti’s economy as it should. CurrentlyHaitiis the choice location for the manufacturing of garments because it is the cheapest, cheaper thanChinafor example. We’ve been told that buyers are doing their best to work out ofHaitidespite the difficulties of getting orders done on time. It is a new location for the race to the bottom, the same race that has been run in so many countries. What would it cost companies to actually pay decent, livable wages? Would perhaps their issues of orders being completed on time not be resolved if the employees had incentive, through respect and pay? A company like Levi’s is arguing against a pay wage in their factories to up pay from $3 to $5 a day. Why is it that these are the discussions being had at a large scale, and not discussions centering around creating an industry that fosters the growth of a country and helps a company grow?
We believe these discussions need to be had. Like the Haitian proverb, ‘With patience you will see the bellybutton of an ant’, we believe that with patience we will begin to make incremental change. We could walk away, but we have decided we need to stay, to have discussions with both Hans, the tailors and those working with INDEPCO. We want to create an avenue that demonstrates that change happens in increments. Small nudges move big pillars. Inequality in the fashion industry remains a large pillar. But as the eternal optimists that we are, we believe that change will come.