Saturday, March 6, 2010

Can the garment industry save Haiti?, House GOP Rejects Law Banning Child Abuse

House GOP Rejects Law Banning Child Abuse

James Ridgeway, Solitary Watch | On Wednesday afternoon, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 4247, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, by a vote of 242-153. In the final vote count, 238 Democrats and just 24 Republicans voted for the bill, while 8 Democrats and 145 Republicans voted against it.


Can low-paying garment industry save Haiti?

Associated Press: Sun Feb 21,

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Jordanie Pinquie Rebeca leans forward and guides a
piece of suit-jacket wool and its silky lining into a sewing machine,
where - bat! bat! bat! - they're bound together to be hemmed.

If she does this for eight hours, she will earn $3.09. Her boss will ship
the pinstriped suit she helped make to the United States, tariff-free. There
a shopper will buy it from JoS. A. Bank Clothiers for $550.

In the quest to rebuild Haiti, the international community and business
leaders are dusting off a pre-quake plan to expand its low-wage garment
assembly industry as a linchpin of recovery. President Barack Obama's
administration is on board, encouraging U.S. retailers to obtain from Haiti
at least 1 percent of the clothes they sell.

But will that save a reeling country whose economy must be built from

Few Haitians have steady incomes, and unemployment is unmeasurable; before
the quake it was estimated at between 60 and 80 percent. In cities, most
scrape by selling in the streets, doing odd jobs or relying on remittances
from abroad that make up a quarter of Haiti's $7 billion gross domestic

Garments are central to the economic growth plan commissioned by U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last year, a 19-page report written by Oxford
University economics professor Paul Collier and promoted by former President
Bill Clinton as special envoy to the impoverished nation.

They say the sector could quickly produce hundreds of thousands of jobs
thanks chiefly to two things: an existing preferential trade deal with the
nearby United States, and cheap Haitian labor.

The deal is the Haiti Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership
Encouragement Act, or "HOPE II." Passed by the U.S. Congress in 2008, it
lets Haiti export textiles duty-free to the U.S. for a decade. Last year,
$513 million worth of Haitian-made apparel, the bulk of exports, was shipped
with labels including Hanes and New Balance. Factory profit margins average
about 22 percent, according to Washington-based Nathan Associates Inc.

The cheap labor is Jordanie Pinquie Rebeca, and others like her.

During a recent shift at the South Korean-owned factory where she works six
days a week, employees softly sang a Creole hymn beneath the hot fluorescent
lights: "Lord, take my hand. Bring me through."

It was HOPE II that persuaded the bosses to move their Dominican plant and
rename it DKDR Haiti SA. Nearly all the 1,200 people still working there
after the quake make the new "outsourcing" minimum wage of 125 gourdes a
day, about $3.09 - approximately the same as the minimum wage in 1984 and
worth less than half its previous purchasing power.

Pay was even lower last year when lawmakers raised the country's minimum
from $1.72 a day to almost $5 in response to protests. But owners
complained, and President Rene Preval refused to enact the law. A compromise
allowed non-garment workers to receive the higher minimum, but stuck factory
workers with the "outsourcing" wage.

DKDR complied but cut production-based incentives, according to general
manager Chun Ho Lee. Producing 600 pieces in a day used to yield a worker a
bonus of $2.47. Now it's worth $1.23.

Rebeca, though stylish in her paperboy hat and spaghetti-strap dress, sleeps
on the street and barely eats. With a day's pay she can buy a cupful of rice
and transport via group taxi, and pay down debt on her now- destroyed
apartment. Anything left over goes to cell phone minutes to call her
boyfriend, who was evacuated to the Dominican Republic with a leg fracture
sustained in the quake, or her 4-year-old son, Mike, whom she sent to live
with relatives in the countryside.

Meanwhile, holding that low-paying job makes it tough to get handouts from
relief workers.

"The foreigners are giving people food outside, but I can't get anything. I
have to stay here working all day," she said.

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.

"It's not enough to make a decent living, but it's the first step" toward
economic recovery, said George Sassine, president of the Association of
Industries of Haiti.

Others said relying too much on clothing assembly is risky.

"The garment sector is creating trouble for the economy because of social
tensions and the low wages," said prominent Haitian economist Kesner Pharel.

Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, himself an economist, said that while the
garment industry shouldn't be ignored, increased investment should be sought
in more enduring sectors such as agriculture and tourism.

Still others fear a return to darker times: Under the brutal Duvalier
dictatorships that ended in the mid-1980s, a small elite reaped the profits
from facilities that assembled garments, baseballs and toys for sale in the

Last month's earthquake cracked the metal-roofed DKDR building's walls and
prompted a costly, two-week shutdown. Another company's factory, west of the
capital in Carrefour, collapsed entirely, killing at least 300 workers.

But garment industry production has already rebounded to 80 or 90 percent of
capacity, and the boosters' enthusiasm is unshaken.

In a recent opinion piece published in The New York Times, Collier likened
the moment to the opening of the American West: "The earthquake could usher
in such a boom in Haiti."

There are currently 25,000 garment jobs, three-quarters less than there were
20 years ago. Most are in the same industrial park where DKDR's plant is
located. Owners want to expand to two new sites outside Port-au- Prince in
line with government wishes to reduce pressure in the debris- choked capital
where most of the 200,000 quake victims died.

At an October investors conference, Clinton laid out a vision for Haiti's
economy in which garments play a central role: "The rich will get richer,
but there will be a much, much bigger middle class, with poor people pouring
into it at a rapid rate."

For Haitians like Rebeca, who is unable to find other work, the chances of
making that leap seem dim.

"We're just fighting to survive," she said, sewing.

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