The choice of work in Haiti is often framed in the impossible context: unemployment or an excruciatingly exploitive and abusive job. Why is there not a third option? Fair wages for honest labor, with pay keeping pace with inflation and the cost of living?
The answer? The global market doesn’t demand it and lax labour laws don’t require it.
Westerners want inexpensive clothes, inexpensive home goods, and inexpensive accessories. International companies thus circle the globe looking for a home where they can push labour laws to the limit in order to reduce their production costs, at the expense of workers. Haiti, a cruel combination of desperate for foreign investment and full of corrupt government officials, has become a haven for these companies. Not only are companies able to pay workers dismal wages in Haiti, they are not required to keep up with modern safety/sanitary provisions or treat their workers humanely. The country, still struggling to recover after the devastating 2010 earthquake often views any employment or foreign investment as welcome – despite the human cost.
Currently, workers in Haitian garment factories earn approximately 300 Haitian gourdes or $4.77 US per day. A report from the Solidarity Center in 2014 stated that these workers were spending after state-mandated deductions, an average of 50% of their pay on transportation and a basic midday meal. With little left to pay rent, support and feed their families, workers have been protesting for an increase to 800 gourdes per day. The protests are falling on deaf ears, and in some cases have caused factories to threaten to take their jobs to neighboring countries willing to work for lower salaries.
Further harming the state of workers in Haiti is that lax labour laws have meant that exploitation has run rampant. The international group Workers Rights Consortium found that many workers are not even being appropriately paid the state minimum – overtime is not being paid to workers and impossible to meet quotas are being forced upon workers meaning deductions from their standard pay. Plainly said, factories are stealing the wages of their workers. A study by Work Better Haiti of 23 factories found that only 25% were paying their workers 300 gourdes for an eight hour day, 43% were paying between 201 and 249 gourdes for an eight hour work day, and 32% were paying between 250 and 299 gourdes per day.
Making a bad situation even worse is that the Workers Rights Consortium report found that Haitian workers, the majority women, are often subject to unsanitary and unsafe working conditions, as well as sexual harassment and abuse from management. These transgressions are often never reported for fear of retaliation by management or being fired from their position.
Modern-day slavery in Haiti is alive and well, and the best way to bring about change is to demand transparency from the companies you support with your wallet. Purchasing from companies that certify ethical production standards sends the clear message that all humans, regardless of geography should be treated with dignity.