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Haitian Wage Theft

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I see the garment industry is up to the same tricks it’s been using since before the Triangle Fire, this time stealing wages from Haitian workers. And who could have guessed that it would be psychopathic corporations Gap, Target, and WalMart leading the charge?

The report, prepared by the Worker Rights Consortium, focused on 5 of Haiti’s 24 garment factories and found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.”

The group said that the factories deprive workers of higher wages they are entitled to under law by setting difficult-to-meet production quotas and neglecting to pay overtime.

It said that offenders included the Caracol Industrial Park in northern Haiti, which the United States helped build and has cited as a centerpiece of reconstruction efforts, and factories that make products for prominent retailers like Gap, Target and Walmart.

Scott Nova, the consortium’s executive director, said in an interview: “What goes on here is not some occasional violations where most companies are in compliance and a few are not. You have across-the-board systematic, willful noncompliance with straightforward labor law by a large margin in a way that’s very destructive to workers.”

I have no problem with clothing being made in Haiti. Haitians really need jobs. But there is absolutely no reason that these apparel companies should legally be able to exploit the poorest workers in the world. Once again, the apparel industry tries to recreate Gilded Age America with the workers with the least power to resist. Why should these corporations not be liable in American courts for stealing wages from workers in Haiti? The only way to stop this behavior is to hold them legally and financially accountable. If you want to site factories in Haiti, fine. Even if you actually pay them only the average Haitian wage rate. But then engaging in wholesale wage theft? There has to be legal repercussions for this, and not in ineffective Haitian courts. Rich nations need to regulate this out of their corporations. Without law becoming as mobile as capital, effective labor reform is basically impossible. That means allowing these Haitian workers to sue Wal-Mart in American courts, not only for back wages but also for punitive damages. If Wal-Mart knows there is an actual cost to wage theft, they’ll stop employing contractors who engage in it.

Here’s the full Workers Rights Consortium report (PDF).

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  • GoDeep

    I don’t think any worker should be docked their pay obviously, but the ppl responsible for this aren’t Gap, Walmart, and Target. Its the owners of the factories & the Haitian gov’t.

    • Jordan

      Who do the owners of the factories get paid by?

      • “Who does the government [sic] of Haiti get paid by?” is equally relevant here.

        • Jordan

          Right, also, this.

    • Two points here.

      1) Gap, Walmart, and Target use a system of subcontracting precisely to exploit workers. They can build their own factories in Haiti if they don’t want to be held responsible. If you let them escape accountability through subcontracting, you facilitate the exploitation of workers.

      2) When a government is not accountable to everyday people and just doesn’t care either way about their workers, you can’t use that to excuse the corporations knowingly taking advantage of such a situation. Yes, we should blame the government. But like in Bangladesh, when the garment capitalists also hold powerful offices, it’s too easy to just blame Haiti. You have to also blame the corporations who find corrupt governments in order to maximize profit.

      • You have to also blame the corporations who find corrupt governments in order to maximize profit.

        Find, or indeed, make (presumably abroad, certainly at home).

        • cpinva

          “Find, or indeed, make (presumably abroad, certainly at home).”

          a fine American tradition, since at least the overthrow of the legitimate Hawaiian government.

      • L2P

        I totally support the basic piont that workers need more rights in developing countries, but i dont see any way to get there by imposing liability on retailers.

        First, you’re just wrong on the overall situation. The retailers aren’t subcontracting out manufactury. They don’t have any contract with purchasers when they make those deals. There’s no privity at any point between retailers, manufacturers, and buyers. This isn’t a big deal on its own, but it means that your remedy is hopeless.

        More importantly, because they aren’t subcontracting there is no relationship between the manufacturer and the seller. Whatever law you draft I can get around. I can certainly make any relationship I want here. I can put a dozen layers between Walmart and the manufacturer if I want. I can even ensure that Walmart has absolutely no control over prices and etc at any point. Seriously, I can. I’ve drafted those contracts.

        So you’re left with imposing on retailers liability for any misdeeds by the retailer. which ends up with 7-11 franchisees on the hook for some numbskull in china deciding to make cheap shiny toys by skimming wages from his employees. Or a Burger King owner on the hook for some Indian CEO deciding to make cheap plastic toys by skimping on overtime.

        Maybe that’s what you want. I don’t know. But if so, there will never be enough support anywhere for that to happen. That law will last until the first mom and pop operation ends up on dateline.

        We’ll get a lot farther pushing for treaties or standards that will govern this.

        • Or, you know, Wal-Mart could open its own factories. The idea that the apparel companies don’t run the show here doesn’t make any sense. This is classic merchant capitalism.

          • GoDeep

            But having managed a supply chain its totally true. Even when these companies are subcontracting they’re doing it b/cs operating factories isn’t their expertise, retailing is. There’s nothing unethical abt that.

            Its unethical if they know the mgmt is screwing the employees but more often than not the typical supply chain mgr has b/tn 20-120 suppliers they’re responsible for. They don’t know the inside workings of their suppliers. They’re lucky if they get annual QA reports from the suppliers. I don’t even think these Haitian/Bangladeshi suppliers are passing on the savings to Walmart; in all likelihood they’re pocketing the workers’ money for their own benefit. That’s why this isn’t ultimately the fault of Walmart, etc. These owners are unscrupulous & no matter who they were selling their wares to, they would screw their workers.

            As L2P says, the real way to manage this is to insist on Fair Trade agreements not Free Trade agreements.

            • Jordan

              You know those TV shows where the upper level cop or executive says: “I don’t want to know how you do it, just do it!”?

            • L2P

              Right.

              But also, too, even if the retailers ARE unscrupulously trodding on the down, there’s no effective way to get at that problem by regulating the retailer.

              • cpinva

                “But also, too, even if the retailers ARE unscrupulously trodding on the down, there’s no effective way to get at that problem by regulating the retailer.”

                sorry, but this is exactly what Wal-Mart/Gap/Target, et al bank on: “gosh, we’re just innocent bystanders here, trying to get our customers the best deal. it would be horribly unfair and unreasonable to hold us in any way accountable for a situation that we, in large part, helped create.”

                Wal-Mart is the single largest retailer in the world, buying in quantities large enough to actually effect, by itself, that international production/distribution chain. if you want a piece of Wal-Mart’s business, you follow Wal-Mart’s rules on quality/cost. Wal-Mart has the power, in certain industries, to control, indirectly, the conditions under which those products will be manufactured.

                if Wal-Mart wanted to, it could easily establish a set of minimum acceptable standards, for any supplier it chooses to do business with, as part of the contract. if that supplier is unable to meet those minimum standards, fine, Wal-Mart will go elsewhere. I can almost guarantee, those suppliers would suddenly find it in their best financial interests to meet those minimum conditions.

                the federal gov’t, under the commerce clause could, if it chose to, establish an excise tax, on all imports not produced under minimum accepted conditions of employment, giving both Wal-Mart and the foreign manufacturers further incentive, to ensure those products are made by employees working in decent conditions. this is a matter of national security: happy employees make for happy families, ultimately making those countries more stable, and making the US safer in the process.

                • Brautigan

                  What you describe is the very essence of a “fair trade” as opposed to “free trade” agreement.

              • slocum

                Nonsense. Companies with supply chains that go through places like Haiti have made comittments to take into account the conditions their suppliers provide for workers. It isn’t common but it is not possible or hopeless. Implementation is difficult, but not impossible either. In fact, the more its done by the businesses best in place to do it (big ones with large resources, the the companies mentioned in this post) the easier the overall conditions task of monitoring will become.

            • But the companies could demand more accountability from the suppliers. For one thing, they could hire more managers–1 for every subcontractor/supplier even. For another, they could demand inspections of factories they work with. They could demand that these factories are unionized. They could influence the supply chain in all sorts of ways. They have no interest in doing any of it.

              • See below. The Gap acted interested, when the only way that US ports would admit containers full of size 18 onesies that their suppliers were complying with oversights required for the special tariff.

                • GoDeep

                  Yeah, that’s why I was saying Fair Trade laws are really the way to get at this.

                  If you put the type of overhead on these cos that you suggest, Erik, that $15 t-shirt at Old Navy will end up costing $50. That will primarily hurt an already struggling middle class. We can’t put that kind of “tax” on businesses, and certainly can’t put it on the middle class. Use Fair Trade to put it on the gov’ts of these countries where it properly belongs.

                • “If you put the type of overhead on these cos that you suggest, Erik, that $15 t-shirt at Old Navy will end up costing $50.”

                  Stop. The idea here is to create a slight increase in cost of products in return for monitoring factories and giving workers on the shopfloor the power to see that their lives are dignified.

                  We could also mandate reduced corporate profits through high taxation to help pay for it.

                • djw

                  If you put the type of overhead on these cos that you suggest, Erik, that $15 t-shirt at Old Navy will end up costing $50.

                  This ratio is almost certainly hyperbole by orders of magnitude, but if it were true it would say something striking and damning about labor cost differentials.

                • GoDeep

                  Hyperbolic, sure, but hardly the first example of it on this site, lol…These things are rarely as cheap in practice as they appear on paper. Margins in the retail industry are notoriously thin & just a few %-age points swings things dramatically.

                  I applaud the goal, but I think there are more effective and less expensive ways to achieve it.

                • DocAmazing

                  They’re turning kids into slaves just to make cheaper sneakers.
                  But what’s the real cost?
                  ‘Cause the sneakers don’t seem that much cheaper.
                  Why are we still paying so much for sneakers
                  When you got them made by little slave kids
                  What are your overheads?

                • cpinva

                  “If you put the type of overhead on these cos that you suggest, Erik, that $15 t-shirt at Old Navy will end up costing $50.”

                  I assume you didn’t take econ 101. had you done so, you’d have learned about the concept of “economies of scale”. unless you have the world’s highest paid managers, those additional costs aren’t going to come anywhere close to $35 per unit, they just aren’t. this is simply another baseless excuse for doing nothing. it may, may, result in an additional cost of a nickel a unit, hardly making that tee prohibitively expensive.

                • djw

                  Hyperbolic, sure,

                  OK, but you see how that’s a problem here, right? There’s a utilitarian element to the sort of calculus you’re doing. You’re asking us to weigh a measure that might improve the lives of poor people in one part of the world while potentially harming consumers (including some poor people) in the US and other rich countries. That might well be a tradeoff worth making! The numbers matter. You’re adopting a classic anti-regulatory rhetorical tactic here: corporations routinely and vastly exaggerate the cost of compliance with any new proposed regulation.

                • +1 to DocAmazing for the reference.

            • Fair trade and specifically written quotas and tariffs.

              During the decade after the US created a specialized tariff category for Cambodian-made goods, that required international monitoring of wages and working conditions, Phnom Penh went from a cowtown with big city diseases to an actual developing-world metropolis, all on the population that worked in clothing factories.

              After that special status, with required monitoring, expired, ‘labor organizer’ became a dangerous job and wages have been stagnant. The recent political unrest was driven by the 16-29 year old youth who reject the reality that their nation’s political system is far more corrupt than the factories they work (or wish they worked) in.

              For a fuller understanding of the effect that garment tariffs with labor protections have on a developing country, you have to watch the film ‘A River Changes Course’. It’s not a picnic to shift 30% of a nation’s adult population from small rural villages to urban slums in a decade.

              I’m not saying that this was a great thing for Cambodia, or even a net positive. (Not for me to say.) It is, however, one model for how to make sure that workers in a developing economy are being exploited in exactly the ways they agreed to, to get off the farm.

              In contrast to ‘and then unicorns crap a regulatory system that the Gap’s lawyers can’t plow through in a 3 martini lunch’.

              • Right–this Cambodian story is really key for what government can do to improve international labor conditions if it wants to.

                • I’m going back next fall. What’s your deadline for draft manuscript? If it’s remotely possible, you really should see the results of 14 years of something that worked.

                  ‘Worked to what’ is another question, and not one I have answers to. But if your chief priority is to hold multinationals to basic standards no matter where their wholesalers source manufactured goods…it’s a real thing that happened.

                  You will see rainbows, because it’s subtropical, but I haven’t seen a unicorn yet.

                • June, but I’m trying to find funding to go overseas and that would push it back. I’m hoping to go to southeast Asia next summer anyway, although a recent financial setback makes that less likely without some sort of funding.

                  There are other examples as well of holding companies and nations up to standards. It can be done. It just usually isn’t because ultimately not many powerful people care much about the poor.

                • I don’t know anything about this topic, really, so I’m sure there are many examples. My kid was born in that 1999 cow town, we adopted her 7 months later, and in finding her other family last year I tripped into a complicated and interesting story about where clothes come from. (Spoiler: It’s complicated.)

                • Actually, the Cambodian example is really one of the 3 or 4 most important and arguably the most directly relevant.

                • Jesus. I don’t know whether I wanted to know that this is as good as it gets.

                • L2P

                  Again – point being that fair trade treaties are the way to go. Imposing liability on retailers for things that manufacturers do is a non-starter.

                • Well, I certainly am supporting of treaties. But I also think people are severely underestimating the role of merchant capitalists here. People are almost portraying them as victims or at least helpless bystanders of a system they themselves created.

            • djw

              I don’t even think these Haitian/Bangladeshi suppliers are passing on the savings to Walmart; in all likelihood they’re pocketing the workers’ money for their own benefit.

              If that were the case, they’d likely be undercut by competitors, no?

              This came out pretty clearly in some of the reporting surrounding the garment subcontracting business in Bangladesh; the nature of the contracts in terms of timing and other requirements were pretty much impossible to meet while adhering to labor law, and there are good reasons to believe the clothing companies knew that (or maintained a very intentional and carefully cultivated form of ignorance).

              • Right; and what the Workers Rights Consortium report I linked to shows is that the apparel companies are perfectly aware this is going on in Haiti and are doing absolutely nothing about it.

              • Cody

                Right – if someone thinks Walmart doesn’t hire people who know EXACTLY how much it costs to create their products I have a bridge to sell them.

                Walmart takes a look at what they want, calculate how much it should cost to make, and then demands a price with a thin margin from their manufacturer. If they won’t sell it at that price, they go find another manufacturer who will.

                • GoDeep

                  That’s true, Cody. We did as well when I was a supply chain manager. We call it “smart sourcing”. But we rarely got access to the actual books of the suppliers–and we had billions to toss their way.

                  Usually they would just say, “ok, I see your math, I’ll meet (or not meet) your price.” In the sectors I managed I had every bit as much power as Walmart but I couldn’t have told you if the plant manager was pocketing money meant for employees or not.

                  Think abt it this way: How many billions of $$$s did the US give Pakistan & yet they still didn’t turn over Osama Bin Laden. Just b/cs you’re paying a company a bunch of money doesn’t mean you know what they’re doing.

              • GoDeep

                Just b/cs they pocket the money for their own benefit doesn’t mean that competitors would undercut them.

                There’s a price $W which Walmart demands. Now Haitian company agrees to meet that price to win the business. But instead of the 5% margin that $W represents, they want a 10% margin. They get it by taking 20% of worker salaries.

                And Walmart is none the wiser.

          • Anonymous

            I think you’re missing the point. I think it’d be great if Walmart had to own its own factories. I don’t see any way on God’s green earth to make that happen. And I don’t think you do, either.

            First of all, you just destroyed the wholesale market. If all retailers, or even just major retailers, have to produce their own stuff you’ve probably gotten rid of all wholesalers b/c the market won’t exist for them. No more Adidas, babe.

            And how do you force that on the unwilling? Does every retailer have to produce the goods they sell? No. That’d be (1) insanity and (2) impossible to do. I know for a fact you don’t want BevMo to have to produce all its craft beers, for instance.

            And what the hell do you do with ACTUAL subcontractors? Ford doesn’t make all its own crap. Even in the subcontractors that make Iphones most of the stuff is just assembled from purchases made by true third parties.

            You are talking about an economic and regulatory nightmare. I know Campos is worried about job prospects for lawyers, but this would keep thousands busy for the next 50 years.

            Again, this is a worthy goal, but forcing retailers to manufacture their own goods is a non-starter for obvious reasons.

            • L2P

              And now that I think about it, it’d probably conflict with anti-trust law, such that it exists anymore. Now Walmart-Adidas could monopolize every aspect of the retail trade and make sure it had the lowest price.

            • Jordan

              Forcing retailers to manufacture their own goods, full stop, is probably not a good idea.

              Making retailers liable for the practices of their subcontractors and/or their originators of goods is a different things. Still not sure that would work, but it would require: 1) retailers actually do have to change, and become manufacturers; 2) retailers have to devote significant resources to monitoring and enforcing the relevant regulations from whom they buy their stuff from.

              • Retailers have some obligations to audit and report on practices throughout their supply chains now. These obligations aren’t liability and the compliance processes range from fig leaf to annual visits calendared with the Chinese government months in advance. But there are some voluntary standards. For all the good they do.

                There’s an ISO standard for supply chain ethics. Not a broadly adopted standard, and not a frequently audited one…but it’s not the force of government pushing corporations to behave better. Which ultimately is how to end these practices.

                • Jordan

                  Right, exactly. It isn’t like there is no precedent or no preceding infrastructure to do this. The law actually doing this, enforced by governments, could really do some good here, I think.

              • Gregor Sansa

                It’s not just a matter of blanket liability. If Fisher’s Overpriced Clothes (Gap/OldNavy/BananaRepublic) made a bona fide attempt to ensure good labor practices, they wouldn’t be held liable for one subcontractor with one violation. That’s not what’s happening, though; it’s a persistent pattern, which they make a positive effort to turn a blind eye to at best, and actively foment at worst.

                Yeah, that makes the cases hard to win. But honestly winning a case isn’t really the point. Not much of a hypothetical ten million dollar settlement would make it to workers’ pockets. But better conditions would. Loomis’s liability law would make a large positive difference even if not one dime of damages were ever paid.

                • This would certainly be the hoped for result. Basic workplace safety, pollution controls, bathrooms, structural soundness in factories, stopping wage theft–this stuff is all really inexpensive to make happen.

                • Jordan

                  Right. The real benefit wouldn’t come, presumably, from lots of actual successful lawsuits everywhere, but the fact that it would actually change corporate behavior.

                • L2P

                  No one disagrees with that. The disagreement is in how behavior will change.

                  Once the costs of compliance are actually measurable the most likely change in behavior is a change in the contracting relationships so that they lose any potential regulatory liability. It’s not like products liability law didn’t happen.

              • L2P

                It would work by not working.

                There is literally no way to force a retailer to be responsible for something a manufacturer does. Whatever reg you pass I will get around in a few months.

                The few treaty and reg obligations retailers have now get compliance by imposing so few actual requirements that compliance is cheaper than avoiding the law. Once the laws actually have teeth the retailers will simply contract their way out of them.

                • Which is why I’d make retailers responsible for the behavior of their contractors.

                  Don’t like it, find a better contractor.

                • Jordan

                  Meh. Make the regulations good enough, and paying you might become more expensive than simply complying with the law. That works for me.

                • L2P

                  Right, how? How do you make somebody liable for something they have no control over?

                  Whatever scheme you come up with, I will make a third party to insulate my liability as a retailer. I will change my operation so that I don’t buy from manufacturers but wholesalers that have facial market power. I will change my operation so that manufacturers sell to third parties that then sell on consignment on my shelves. I will change my operation so that “manufacturers” are actually repackagers that hire from the actual manufacturers where the bad stuff happens..

                  Seriously, I’ve done this. Once compliance costs become a problem it’s cheaper to just restructure. You’re creating a non-starter here. It’s a pipe dream to impose any serious regulatory costs on retailers for things that manufacturers do.

                • L2P

                  It’s not that expensive. If regulatory costs are anything more than negligible it’s worth it.

                  The problem isn’t regulations per se, it’s trying to regulate someone for something they don’t directly control. This is why responsible person liability is such a clusterfuck. It’s way too easy to isolate yourself from the actual bad stuff if your business isn’t actually doing the bad stuff.

                • Jordan

                  Look, I get it that you are Rob Lowe’s character in the West Wing. That is cool, I guess.

                  But compliance issues are tough no matter what approach you take. This applies just as much to trade treaties as to Erik’s suggested approach. None of this is going to be easy. But Erik’s explicit proposal is to make retailers liable for what their contractors do. Could a good lawyer determined to preserve profits for assholes get around those regulations? Possibly! Could making those regulations quite strict, so it costs lots and lots of money to avoid them lead to some companies just deciding to comply? Also possible!

                  So, I mean, I still prefer the trade agreement approach, personally. But unless you explain why that approach is much harder to game than the regulation-of-American-company approach, you aren’t saying anything other than that you and other lawyers are good at helping companies avoid their responsibilities. Which, duh, is stipulated.

        • basement cat

          It happens in products liability, why not wage theft?

  • The only reason to offshore clothing manufacture is to gain access to cheap(er) labor. And given that there are states in the US where there are practically no labor or wage protections moving textile production anywhere offshore is because you really, really, really, want to grind the faces of your workers.

    • DrDick

      Capitalism at its finest.

  • Gilded Age? I don’t think so. It’s all a giant experiment to see how close they can get to slavery before consumers can’t buy your shit without throwing up a little in their mouths.

    Sure you can get paid. If you make 500 suit jackets an hour!

    Sure you can be free. If you can pick ten tons of cotton by sunset.

    Ha ha ha hah!

    • GoDeep

      I worked as supply chain manager for many years & some of my closest friends are still in the industry. My mentor runs int’l sourcing for a large retailer.

      She told me that when she toured their overseas contractors she nearly cried once when she came across some workers who were picking cotton that eventually would find its way into apparel her company sold. You see it reminded her of the stories her grandparents told abt being sharecroppers on Southern cotton plantations.

      She’s not exploiting these ppl, she operates in an ethical manner, but she recognizes she’s not Jesus Christ & can’t save these ppl either. My goodness I just read today that India (where this textile factory & cotton farm were located) has more slaves than any other country in the world. How is she supposed to stop that? Most of the ppl at these companies aren’t evil; they’re just trying to do an honest job in an imperfect world.

      • Jordan

        The point isn’t to rail against the individuals working at the job for the western companies. The point is to create laws and regulations that prevent this from being allowed and acceptable.

      • I really don’t know what to make of this assertion that its ok for people to participate in slave labor and literally benefit from it in the form of salaries because they are nice people and cry a bit when they find out what puts bread on their family table. Its one thing to argue that someone in one line of business is not responsible for what someone in another line of business does. But its quite another to assert that your friend has no moral duty to avoid benefitting directly from, or supervising, slave labor like contracts. Of course she does. Niceness and crying is no defense against the claims of humanity, morality and–in some cases–law.

        • Jordan

          I dunno. Not talking about yet another GoDeep madeup scenario. But in general: I really try to avoid buying sweatshop clothes. But sometimes I just don’t have enough money but to buy something from Target. How is that not the same (or, really, much more) as working your job that is involved with all that?

          • Thank you. It’s tiring to all the time have to explain that the meaning of ‘system’ is, you’re soaking in it, just like I am.

            The happenstance of my literally intimate relationship with a particular family on the other side of the global divide doesn’t give me special obligations to repair the broken world, debts that are distinct from my neighbors’ in Albuquerque. Unless you eat naked from your garden, you too are complicit.

            Being a supply chain manager who actually faces what it means to buy cheap cotton from India for a week is more than 99.9% of Americans have ever done to make poverty real.

            • Jordan

              All very, very true. So this, +1, etc.

              Except, I don’t really believe GoDeep knows such a person. Every single thread he brings up some (or multiple!) anecdotal story that just so happens to support his position. They are always unconfirmable, often laughably so. I call shenanigans.

              • Ronan

                I second your shenanigans
                He’s not even trying to make his nonsense believable anymore

                • GoDeep

                  Oh come on, Ronan. What’s not believable? That a black woman from Texas can manage international sourcing for a Fortune 50 company?

                  Or that a black woman from Kansas can have a father whose a cop, and grandparents who were raised on reservations in Oklahoma?

                  Or that a black 45yo woman can’t be a mgmt consultant, and a feminist?

                  Listen if those things violate your world view, so be it. But that says more abt your world view than my experience.

                  If I told you 10yrs ago that a boy born to a Kenyan father & Kansan mother, who was raised in Indonesia & Hawaii, who worked as a community organizer, and who shared a name w/ one of America’s most hated enemies would soon be POTUS you’d laff me out of the room.

                  The only Ronan I’ve ever known was a big, gregarious Israeli classmate of mine in b-school who had a wonderful family and was a master at financial analysis. I don’t know if that describes you or not, but my view of “Ronan’s” is not limited to the great guy from my study group. Hope you afford others the same dignity.

                • Ronan

                  Im just surprsied you hadnt actually work in a sweatshop ; )

                • Ronan

                  But seriously, that would have been Ronen, more than likely
                  I think the Hebrew has an E rather than an A

                • Ronan

                  Not that thats here nor there
                  I just think its interesting, and I get it a good bit
                  which was surprising at first

                • GoDeep

                  You’re right, he spells it with an “E”. Sorry.

                  For me, the great thing abt this site is that there are a lot of liberals who don’t fit the “conventional” mold. They’re from Iowa, or work in industry, or whatever. So, hey, its a big world, and I like that.

        • djw

          Its one thing to argue that someone in one line of business is not responsible for what someone in another line of business does. But its quite another to assert that your friend has no moral duty to avoid benefitting directly from, or supervising, slave labor like contracts. Of course she does.

          Right. The question of how we ought to assign responsibility–and what form of responsibility we ought to assign–to various individuals participating in unjust structural arrangements (with varying but generally limited power to change them) is an incredibly difficult one. But whatever responsibility she might be plausibly assigned, the fact that she feels sad and cries a little about the horrible abuse of workers is clearly irrelevant.

          • GoDeep

            It can be harder to change supplier practices than you think. Early in my career I was working to integrate more minority suppliers into our system. We located a minority supplier who was starting up a plant in South Central LA. We gave the owner a large contract which served as the basis for him to get the loan he needed from the bank to open. After a few years tho, the bank moved to remove him as CEO. They replaced him with a white guy.

            I then moved to terminate the contract (no longer a minority business, amirite?). I lost. You might argue that our lawyers weren’t clever enuf, and perhaps they weren’t, but deeply managing a supplier is awfully freaking hard. Besides giving that company a large contract, we offered lots of expertise as well & it still wasn’t enuf. At any rate, the policies I once thought would work when I was in school, have changed now that I have real world experience. You can decide whatever you want.

        • GoDeep

          You raise a legitimate point, Aimai & that’s why I relayed the story. I think there’s a worthwhile discussion to be had abt personal & collective responsibility here.

          This happened to my friend four years ago. She didn’t say the Indians were slaves, she said it reminded her of the sharecropping stories she was told by her grandmother. I just read the story abt India & slavery on Wed, I don’t know what she knows abt that.

          My point is that more often than not a supply chain mgr operates w/ very limited information abt work conditions. They personally see a factory maybe once every four years. A QA inspector might see it bi-annually, or in the case of food factories annually. I’m sure if Gina knew that a factory operated with slave labor, she’d take steps to find another supplier. But I’m quite certain that the nice Indian plant mgr wouldn’t tell the nice American businesswoman that his factory relied on slave labor. He also most assuredly wouldn’t tell her that he chained the fire doors shut, and pocketed for himself workers’ overtime.

          Now you can still legitimately debate if she’s complicit–ignorance of the law is no defense, amirite?–but I at least want the terms of debate to reflect reality, and not some academic, antiseptic view of reality. Maybe any supply chain mgr who imports goods from India, Haiti, Bangladesh, etc is morally responsible, but let’s not say they actually know what any given factory manager is doing to his workers.

      • What is the point of this tale other than to flaunt your full of shit chops?

        Gee, maybe 99% of the people, sorry, ppl, who profit from exploitation are really nice and love kittens and duckies and give to charity. Maybe only 1% are cigar chomping bastards who laugh at the sight off people groaning under some cruel overseer.

        Well then obviously we must give that 99% a break and not expect them to do anything because gosh they are so nice and they feel really bad about it and we can’t honestly expect them to do anything because mumble mumble profits, can we?

        Sure we can. And per below, disagree completely.

        Targeting individuals who profit from exploitative practices is a fine tool for getting real change. Part of the reason these practices continue is because every individual steps behind the Corporate curtain. “Not me! It was a managerial decision. And the invisible hand!”

        • GoDeep

          I contributed the story, Shakezula, b/cs I think it lends color. I think its legitimate to debate what our personal responsibility is in such situations.

          What I mostly see from activists in this area is an attempt to demonize ppl at these companies. I’m saying these ppl–even these executives–are by and large decent ppl. But that its an imperfect world & they operate with little information. I know there are supply chain executives who get paid to look the other way, or simply don’t give a rat’s ass abt labor practices at their suppliers, but more often than not these ppl have limited visibility, even when like with my friend its entirely within their discretion to change suppliers.

          Take it or leave it. If you think demonizing these ppl accurately reflects reality, and if you think demonizing them helps the cause the most, then go right ahead. I think it undermines the goal personally b/cs it alienates the middle but, hey, its a free country.

  • shah8

    Okay, this slightly pisses me off about the concern for making new laws. This post displays a material ignorance of the relationship the US has with Haiti’s government. The US specifically destroys native Haitian ability grow and sell their own crops (or make their own industry that delivers profits to Haitians), and the US had a role in deposing Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004, specifically because he was making too much noise about increasing minimum wages and liberal thuggy populist things like that.

    The conditions that promote wage theft in Haiti’s factories is a feature, and not a bug of the relationship the US has with Haiti. Therefore, there is *never* going to be the natural impulse to support international legal avenues for labor any more than there is an impulse for any multilateral forum that might impinge on US imperial aims/methods/people. Even with some international forums like the International Criminal Court (even though the US isn’t a signatory party), their functions (insofar as actual policy is a question and not a settled matter) are predominantly used to press US aims in the third world, like, for example, the prosecution of Uhuru Kenyatta as a means to block his ascendancy to the Kenyan presidency, and undermine it afterwards by effectively tying all Kenyan diplomacy to his state of permanent controversy. This is not to say that Aristide or Kenyatta are wrongly injured angels. Far from it. It’s just to say that we can’t actually expect to use US laws to assist international labor. You see cases like Cambodia, but a great deal of that is functionally about the balancing act between various involved powers–in particular, the US and China’s alliance of convenience in certain aspects of SE Asian geopolitics.

    • Trust me, I know the history of US intervention in Haiti.

      But as to the points in your second paragraph, yes it is a feature and not a bug, but there is no avenue outside of the US government (or the UN) to improve this situation.

      • shah8

        That is nonsense. Appealing to the better angels of bullies validates their behavior, and geopolitically, most changes happen after the country or region has been sucked dry past the imagination of those that seek to exploit e.g., the trade agreements with China that wound up making pointless the harsh labor conditions of Saipan. Typically those countries that do manage to get some daylight do so by getting as opaque in local politics as possible or organizing a huge show of public force in delegitimizing pro US candidates and policies. In Haiti, the public is subject to violent gangs, and resources are handed out only through aid channels that demands foreign controls in exchange. The Dominican Republic has gotten progressively more discriminatory against Haiti.

        Any real change sooner than a sort of vicious disinterest should be a movement towards aiding the growth of participatory democracy that somehow evades the challenges facing would-be Haitian voters.

        • The bullies here are corporations, not government.

    • a great deal of that is functionally about the balancing act between various involved powers–in particular, the US and China’s alliance of convenience in certain aspects of SE Asian geopolitics.

      Partly, though I think you can’t discount the guilt factor in any transaction or system in which developed nations provide goodies for Cambodia.

      Isn’t Haiti the first nation to sue the UN ‘peacekeeping mission’ for damages? Cambodia should look into that, stat.

  • The prophet Nostradumbass

    When I read about this disgusting tactic, I remember that it’s also used right here in the USA. Think “Justice for Janitors”.

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