Haiti Update

To:Primary Contacts, WRC Affiliate Colleges and Universities
From:Benjamin Hensler
Date:February 9, 2010
Re:Haiti Update

WRC Haiti Update

The devastation wrought in Haiti by the earthquake of January 12 is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.  The United Nations has reported that up to 200,000 people have died and up to a million are homeless.  

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, international efforts were appropriately focused on emergency humanitarian relief.  However, it has become clear over the last several weeks that Haiti’s garment industry and its workers – and, internationally, apparel buyers and worker advocates – have an important role to play in aiding immediate relief efforts and supporting Haiti’s longer term recovery and development. 

The WRC has monitored the situation in Haiti closely – particularly with respect to the garment industry and its workers – and has been working with other organizations to identify ways in which apparel industry stakeholders, including garment worker advocates, can support the relief and recovery effort. This update reviews: (i) information gathered by the WRC from local and international sources regarding the situation of Haitian garment workers, (ii) our engagement with other stakeholders – including major apparel brands and other worker rights advocates – to support both immediate relief and long-term assistance to Haitian garment workers, and (iii) our assessment of production in Haiti for collegiate apparel licensees.

I. The Impact of the Earthquake on the Haitian Apparel Industry

The garment sector is the backbone of Haiti’s fragile formal economy.  Prior to the earthquake, its twenty-eight factories accounted for more than seventy-five percent of the country’s exports and employed more than 25,000 workers – making it, by far, the largest and fastest growing formal, private sector employer.  

The impact of the earthquake on apparel factories was mixed. All but five of the country’s garment factories escaped with relatively minor damage. Many factories have already resumed operations, albeit at a reduced production level. The factories where the WRC has worked most extensively, which are located in the Codevi free trade zone along Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic, were not affected. Haiti’s apparel manufacturers’ association reports that roughly sixty percent of the industry’s employees have returned to work.  

However, the apparel sector, like the rest of the country, also experienced enormous tragedies: Most heart wrenching was the collapse of the Palm Apparel factory, located in the Carrefour district of Port-au-Prince, which buried an estimated 500 workers – one of the largest losses of life inflicted at a single location. Palm’s workers manufactured t-shirts for Gildan Activewear and other export customers.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, many apparel workers have migrated to the countryside or are unaccounted for. And, of those who have returned to work, many have lost relatives and remain homeless, without adequate food for themselves or their families.  The situation remains desperate.

II. WRC Engagement to Help Haitian Apparel Workers

Over the past three weeks, the WRC and other international worker rights advocates have consulted with Haitian garment worker and apparel industry organizations, the ILO, and major apparel brands with production in Haiti concerning the needs of garment workers. From these consultations, it has become clear that relief programs carried out through apparel workplaces can fill a significant gap in efficiently reaching large numbers of individuals and families in need. 

Haiti’s apparel factories are among the country’s few large institutions functioning in the wake of the earthquake. For many workers, their worksites now provide their most reliable daily source of food and clean water for drinking and hygiene. Factories are also among the only viable sources of potential income for workers and their families to buy basic necessities. While it is possible now to purchase food and other necessities at formal and informal vendors, most workers – like others throughout the country – have little money to purchase anything. 

To support relief efforts based at apparel workplaces, the WRC has joined together with the International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF), Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN), and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (Solidarity Center), to develop a set of recommendations for U.S. apparel brands doing business in Haiti. These Joint Recommendations are appended to this update.  The primary vehicle for sharing these proposals has been the MFA Forum, a multi-stakeholder initiative, which has established a working group on Haiti that involves the WRC and the other labor rights organizations noted above, as well as major apparel brands like Columbia, Disney, Fruit of the Loom, Gap, Gildan, Levis, New Balance, and Timberland, and other stakeholders, such as the FLA, Business for Social Responsibility, the ILO Better Work Program and the U.S. Department of Labor.  In addition, the WRC has reached out separately to the FLA which has agreed to share these recommendations with its member companies, and, in particular, those that source directly from Haiti.

Previous discussion by the working group has focused on one of these proposals: the immediate need for certified structural assessments of factories to ensure that resumed operation does not put workers in danger.  While some factories have received some form of inspection, a number have not. We understand that the inspections will cost between $2000 and $5000 per factory, but funds are lacking at the local level to pay for them.  In our view, it seems reasonable for apparel buyers to assist suppliers in covering these costs, which are modest in sum relative to the contributions many have already made to relief organizations. The sooner workers are able to return to work safely, the more self-sufficient they will be to address their needs. 

There will be a substantive discussion of the other proposals on an MFA Forum conference call later call this week. Because economic disruption and proliferation of the black market in the wake of the earthquake has resulted in drastic inflation for basic commodities, the need for some form of income support and basic goods distribution in addition to wages must be a top priority for workers to be able to meet their basic needs and begin to rebuild their lives.

III. Production of Collegiate Licensed Apparel in Haiti

In order to assess production of collegiate licensed apparel in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, the WRC has contacted each licensee that had disclosed supplier facilities in Haiti. These include New Agenda, Kactus Jock, Lakeshirts, T-Shirt International, Madison Graphics, Antigua Group, and New Era.

Our initial assessment indicates that, to the extent that production in Haiti was actually occurring, the most common source was blank garments supplied by Gildan Activewear from its Haitian subcontractors. Kactus Jock, New Agenda, Lakeshirts, and Madison Graphics each confirmed that they purchase blank goods from Gildan, though none of the companies provided information about where these products were produced. The WRC has encouraged licensees to engage with Gildan on this topic. 

Another potential supplier to licensees of blank goods made in Haiti is Hanesbrands. While no licensees have disclosed Hanesbrands’ contract facilities in Haiti as suppliers, a number have disclosed being supplied by Hanes’ facilities in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which distribute products made at the company’s directly-owned and contract facilities.  Hanes contracts with four sewing factories in Haiti.

As is often the case, inaccuracies in the factory data supplied by licensees have complicated this assessment. For example, despite having previously disclosed a Haitian factory as one of its suppliers of collegiate apparel, Antigua informed the WRC that it had never sourced from Haiti and that it did not know why it had included the factory in its disclosure data. Likewise, New Era, which last year disclosed several Haitian factories as supplying it with collegiate products, now has informed the WRC that this data was incorrect, and that the apparel in question – blank garments from Gildan Activewear – was manufactured in Honduras, not Haiti. 

Gildan and Hanesbrands are the two largest importers to the United States of apparel made in Haiti. To their credit, both companies have taken, of their own accord, significant actions to assist Haiti, and its garment industry and workers: They have contributed to relief organizations such as Care and the Red Cross; organized company-wide fundraising efforts for humanitarian initiatives; arranged for some form of inspection of contract facilities; and ensured the provision of water, food, and other basic necessities for their contractors’ workers. In addition, Hanes recently donated 2000 family-sized tents for the employees of its contract factories.  As discussed below, these companies’ commendable actions should be expanded and adopted by other apparel buyers as well.

Appendix: Joint Recommendations by the WRC, ITGLWF, MSN and Solidarity Center:  

The following are the measures the WRC and other garment worker advocates have suggested that apparel buyers support and help implement as part of a relief and recovery program focused on the Haitian apparel industry and its workers. These actions are complementary to the contributions to immediate humanitarian aid that many apparel companies and other stakeholder organizations have, to their credit, already made. These proposals were conveyed to apparel buyers in the attached document prepared for the MFA Forum Haiti working group. The WRC looks forward to continued dialogue with other stakeholders concerning these proposals and other initiatives to assist the Haitian apparel industry and its workers as part of Haiti’s recovery process.

I. At the IndividualFactory Level,Apparel Buyers Should Assist and Encourage Factories to:   

 A.  In the case of factories that plan to reopen, or are operating already:

      1. Arrange for a safety inspection and certification of the factory to ensure that workers are not being exposed to further danger as a result of damage to building structures.  (We understand that the greatest need here is funding for inspections by a credible organization that is already on the ground.)

      2. Provide workers with at least one daily meal at the workplace and access to water for drinking and personal hygiene. 

      3. Provide workers who have not yet been recalled with a source of income until they return to work.   

      4. Provide priority in filling open positions to apparel workers who are not able to return to their previous places of work.

 B. In the case of factories seeking to reopen, but currently unable to do so, obtain credit needed for operational infrastructure (generators, etc), raw materials, and payroll.  

 C. In the case of factories that will not be able to reopen or reemploy all their workers, provide displaced workers with legally owed severance, outstanding wages, and any other mandatory terminal compensation.  

 D. In the case of factories where workers have lost their lives or become permanently disabled because of the earthquake, provide compensation and assistance to the victims or their families. 

II. At the Industry Level, Apparel Buyers, Themselves, Should:
 A. Contribute to a dedicated humanitarian relief fund for apparel workers, that could assist workers in providing for basic needs – shelter, food, water, etc – as they begin to rebuild their lives.  Such a fund should be administered at apparel workplaces for each plant’s employees. 

 B. Support the creation of a database and outreach program for tracking the whereabouts and welfare of factory workers impacted by the earthquake in order to provide assistance and information about employment opportunities, and enable disbursement of relief funds, and/or compensation from employers.

 C. Where feasible, maintain production in Haiti, whether at existing or newly constructed supplier factories or by shifting orders to factory locations in Haiti that have not been impacted. Brands which may need to shift orders elsewhere should commit to returning to Haiti as soon as possible.

 D. Work with stakeholders to establish decent working conditions in their supply chains.

 E. Work with stakeholders to help develop a mechanism to prioritize employment opportunities for displaced workers in the remaining or new factories.

 F. Provide supplier factories with orders at volumes, prices and delivery dates that will enable these factories to operate and provide decent work to employees during the recovery process. 

III. MFA Forum Network Participants, including Brands, Multilateral Institutions, Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives, NGOs, and Unions, Should: 
A. Support the channeling of new and existing relief efforts – including the distribution of tents, food, and other basic necessities – through programs at apparel workplaces, which are well placed to reach large numbers of workers and their families.

 B. Explore relief efforts tailored for worker populations and geared to facilitate employment, such as the creation of temporary housing centers for workers and their families and the provision of transportation to and from work. 

Scott Nova
Worker Rights Consortium
5 Thomas Circle NW
Washington DC 20005
ph 202 387 4884
fax 202 387 3292
[email protected]