Earthquake in Haiti – Impact on Garment Factories and Workers

WRC-Header

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Like you, we at the WRC have been shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of life and devastation caused by this week’s earthquake in Haiti. This news is doubly painful because the WRC has worked closely with Haitian garment workers and their advocates to support better lives for these workers and their families. We are very concerned that the impact of this disaster on the Haitian apparel industry threatens to disrupt, if not destroy, this vital source of hope and livelihood for the country’s workers. 

While communication remains difficult and specific information hard to obtain, the WRC has learned, through industry and other sources, that the effect of the earthquake on the country’s apparel sector is  –  not surprisingly  –  quite severe. Some factories around Port au Prince apparently have sustained structural damage or been destroyed. This is not the case, fortunately, with the CODEVI plants which have been a substantial focus of the WRC’s prior work in Haiti, and are located at the Haiti-Dominican Republic outside of the most affected zones.  

Very significantly, the earthquake has crippled Haiti ‘s already fragile infrastructure — roads, power, port facilities and sanitation. All of these losses are likely to have a significant impact on workers’ ability to sustain themselves and rebuild, and the apparel industry’s capacity to restore operations and preserve employment. 

Haiti ranks seventeenth among countries exporting apparel to the U.S., and the garment industry is the country’s largest industry and source of export revenue. Production for companies that are collegiate licensees represents an important source of orders for Haitian garment factories. The WRC will be consulting with licensees and other apparel firms concerning steps they can take to support workers during this crisis. We have been encouraged to hear that some U.S. apparel firms already have begun to work with their suppliers to provide necessities such as food and drinking water to their workers.  

Beyond these immediate relief measures, it will be crucial to ensure that workers’ incomes are maintained and that sourcing relationships are preserved during the longer recovery process. Some apparel firms already have announced that they are shifting orders previously supplied by factories in Haiti to suppliers in other countries. While this may be necessary, in some cases, as an immediate measure until basic services are restored, any longer term shift of production out of Haiti as a result of this disaster can only deepen the suffering of its people. The WRC plans to make inquiries to firms that have made such announcements as to their intentions.   

The WRC is also contacting other worker advocacy organizations on the island to gather more specific information and determine how we can best assist Haitian garment workers in the immediate crisis and the necessary recovery. The American Center for International Labor Solidarity has already sent delegations from the Dominican Republic into Haiti to assess needs, and has established a fund for Earthquake Relief for Haitian Workers: http://www.solidaritycenter.org/.  SOLIDAR, a European labor-NGO network that provides humanitarian crisis relief, has established a Haiti Emergency Support Fund to support the distribution of emergency supplies by member groups already working in the quake-affected areas: http://www.solidar.org/Page_Generale.asp?DocID=13958&langue=EN&thebloc=23479. A list of other organizations engaged in relief efforts to which donations can be made can be found at:https://www.workersrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/InterAction-Members-Respond-to-the-Earthquake-in-Haiti.pdf

The WRC will keep the university community informed as we move forward in our efforts to support Haitian garment workers in this crisis. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with the Haitian people.

Ben

Benjamin Hensler
General Counsel and Deputy Director
Worker Rights Consortium
(415) 503-0465 (phone/fax)
(415) 640-8850 (mobile)  
ben.hensler@workersrights.org
www.workersrights.org