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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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