Flying to the heart of the Haitian garment industry!

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Our trip is scheduled for Haiti! August 7th through the end of the month will be spent in Port-au-Prince making our new garments at INDEPCO and soaking up the opportunities that await us on our fourth trip!

The garment industry in Haiti has not made the kind of progress that anyone interested in fair labour standards and sustainable business development would hope to see. Local Buttons continues to be solution based, engaging with the challenges of the garment industry in Haiti and its relationship to world fashion. It will be informative to return to Port-au-Prince where we gain insight into the inner circles of the industry as it relates to labour and production inHaiti.

Reading the Better Work Haiti review, reported by the International Labour Organization (ILO), with the support of Canadian and American economic and human resource departments, was quite frustrating.

The fourth annual report was released on April 16th, 2012, and analyzed the progress and/or regression of how 20 factories in Haiti comply with National and International labour and industry standards.

It was unfortunate that no factory complied with all basic international and national standards. Each factory has not complied with several very general standards that should be in place for legal production. This is frustrating because the revitalization of the garment industry was chosen as the main strategy to develop the Haitian economy after the 2010 earthquake.

The standards, as outlined in the report, need to be further developed, implemented, and monitored. This remains to be the greatest challenge of the ILO. The World Trade Organization (WTO) by comparison implements and monitors trade agreements with ease. “People” compared to “goods” have not been protected, it is a situation that has devastated the livelihoods of the working class around the world.

Rather than going into the details of the report, which can be read here

There are a few excerpts I chose from the report to illustrate the awful conditions that Haitian garment workers tolerate. I’ve indicated the page number of each excerpt in case you’d like to read more.

“…workers reporting that they are not able to leave the factory without permission for nearly an hour after normal working hours, as the punch in machine is turned off. In this case, if workers leave the factory without punching out, they do not get paid for the day.” (p.17).

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Image: A Woman sleeps at factory DKDR Haiti, scoring very poorly on its compliance points. P.34

“Management confirmed that when a woman is pregnant, she is paid only for maternity leave even if she becomes sick while pregnant. As a result, women are not getting the same sick leave benefits as men, which constitutes gender discrimination” (p.16)

“Promises of promotions, as well as threats to maintain their employment, were made in exchange for dates or sexual favours. It was stated that if workers refuse to go on dates with their supervisors, they are fired.” (p.16).

“The share of workers currently earning 250 Gourdes after 8 hours of regular work time is 22%…All workers earn a minimum of 150 Gourdes per day.” (p.18) [ 250 Gourdes= $6.00 CAD. , 150 Gourdes= $3.70 CAD]…ummm? From what we learned, and anyone could assume, this is a fight for two inadequate levels of income!

“…workers who do not work overtime do not receive the same wage as other workers in the same module who have achieved the production target.” (p.19)

“Ten factories did not yet install or provide washing facilities in the event of exposure to chemicals” (p.20)

It is a very good thing that this reporting is being done, but not if it doesn’t become the interest of the public. Is it a matter of “tagging” garments with the pictures of physically and emotionally injured garment workers in the same way cigarette packages illustrate cancerous lungs?

That was a whimsical suggestion on my behalf, but more seriously, Local Buttons will continue to function as a movement that a) demonstrates the potential to redefine garment industry standards, and b) develops consumer demand for ethical fashion.

Image So can making them work long hours…

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