Haitian Sweatshops are not Relief

Community Organizations International International

haiti1New Orleans In the wake of the tragic earthquake in Haiti a “jobs” plan originally requested by the UN and touted by special envoy, former US President Bill Clinton is making the rounds with its claims that it could quickly produce hundreds of thousands of largely textile jobs to assist in the recovery.  The plan as always depends on two things:  an already enacted sweetheart no-tariff trade deal to the USA and of course dirt, cheap labor.  With unemployment almost immeasurable between 60-80%, the prevailing logic is that anything must be a win here.

An excellent story by Jonathan M. Katz for the Associated Press calls the whole mess into question.

It starts with tragically low wages.  The daily minimum wage is now equal to $3.09.  Remember, I just say, per day!  Worse, this is about the same minimum wage that prevailed in Haiti 25 years ago and its purchasing power in less than half of what it bought then.   Haitian legislators tried to put the daily minimum wage to almost $5 USD last year, but the President refused to enact the higher rate, so around and around we go.  The “compromise” was that the wage was allowed to rise, but workers involved in “outsourcing” would be paid the measly 3 bucks and change.  So, seriously the “relief” would be importing vast numbers of jobs that would be below the daily minimum for other Haitian workers.  Gawd!

The worst irony might be that the program of tax breaks for the industry is called HOPE II (Haiti Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act), which is clearly a name that could only make a textile industry lobbyist proud.  At the least in the name of transparency we should substitute the works “partnership encouragement” with “predatory encouragement” and tell it like it is.

Katz’s last lines are worth sucking down whole:

“All sides agree that garment industry wages are too low to feed, clothe, and house workers and their families.  Even factory owners acknowledge that reality – though they deny running sweatshops and say the businesses have an important role.”

If a job can’t feed, clothe or house workers and their families, it seems the UN, President Clinton, and about everyone else should agree that that job pretty much defines worthless.  An earthquake and then this tragedy is too much for Haiti.