- News & Reports
- Take action
- Donate to CHAN Site
Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch
Analysis and news on relief and reconstruction efforts in Haiti.
Updated: 1 min 18 sec ago
Rick Westhead of the Toronto Star reports:
One of Canada’s largest garment companies [Gildan Activewear] has promised to ensure that thousands of workers who make its clothing in Haitian factories are paid at least $7.22 per day, the country’s minimum wage.
The move followed revelations that some labourers making apparel for Gildan Activewear were paid so little they had no money for food.
In addition to Gildan, Fruit of the Loom also agreed to ensure their contractor’s compliance with the minimum wage, according to Scott Nova, an official with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC). The statements from the two companies comes after a report (PDF), authored by the WRC 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 WRC found that “over three quarters of the workers who were interviewed reported that they were unable to pay for three meals per day for themselves and their immediate family.”
As we previously described, the WRC noted that “tacitly complicit” in this wage theft were large North American brands such as “Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart,” which all source clothing from Haiti. The WRC report called for these brands to ensure their third-party contractors comply with the minimum wage as well as compensate employees for their previous underpayment.
In a public statement, Gildan also called for “an industry-wide meeting and other combined efforts, involving brands, retailers and worker representatives similarly committed to ensuring compliance, in order to bring a common resolution to this issue in a manner which will appropriately address the working conditions in the apparel industry.” Gildan added that “we understand that one issue that will be on the table for discussion will be remedies for past non-compliance.”
Better Work Haiti, an international monitoring organization run by the International Labor Organization and funded by the World Bank and U.S. Department of Labor, has consistently reported massive non-compliance with Haiti’s minimum wage law. In their latest report, released in October, Better Work reported 100 percent non-compliance in the 23 factories covered in the report, but Better Work added that:
In the Minimum Wage Law there are two applicable wage requirements in exporting apparel factories in Haiti: the minimum wage of reference, currently set at 200 Gourdes per day (article 1 of the law), and the production wage (Minimum Wages: Piece Rate), currently set at 300 Gourdes per day (article 2.2 of the law). The production wage refers to a legal requirement for the employer to set piece rates in a manner such that a worker can earn 300 Gourdes during eight regular hours of work per day.
The Haitian government and Haitian manufacturers have advocated for an interpretation of the law which mandates only the lower of the two wages be paid, but Fruit of the Loom, in a public statement, acknowledges that, “It is our view that the clear intent of Haiti’s minimum wage law is for production rates to be set in such a manner as to allow workers to earn at least 300 gourdes for 8 hours of work in a day. Based on our independent investigation, we concur with the WRC that the garment industry in Haiti generally falls short of that standard.”
“The commitments from Gildan and Fruit of the Loom will put substantial pressure on other buyers,” Nova told the Toronto Star.
The AP reported yesterday that, “the number of Haitians still displaced by the 2010 earthquake has dropped below 200,000… That marks an 89 percent decline since the camp population peaked in July 2010 at 1.5 million people.” According to official figures, the camp population currently stands at 171,974, compared to over 278,000 in June of 2013 at the time of the last report. The drop is the largest over a single reporting period in nearly three years.
Yet, looking closer, over 50 percent of this reduction since June is the result of a decision by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the entity which monitors the camp population, to remove three areas, Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville from the official camp list. Together, these three areas are home to an estimated 54,045 individuals. The IOM report states:
On July 11th 2013, the Government of Haiti represented by UCLBP (Unité de Construction de Logements et Bâtiments Publics), submitted a formal request to IOM to remove the three settlements from the DTM (i.e. from the list of IDP sites that exist in the country).
The UCLBP request is motivated by the observation that the characteristics of these settlements are those of “… new neighborhoods needing urban planning with a long term view …”, not of IDP sites.
But the situation facing those who reside in the three areas is far from secure. This week Amnesty International reported that:
Residents of the Lanmè Frape area of Canaan, an informal settlement in the municipality of Cabaret, on the northern outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, have had their simple dwellings repeatedly destroyed by police officers accompanied by armed men. The residents told Amnesty International that they have been the victims of attacks on more than 10 occasions over the last 18 months and several of them have also been arrested on unfounded charges for periods of up to a month. Two hundred families currently remain in the Lanmè Frape area, although as many as 600 lived there before the forced evictions began.
Amnesty continues, describing how the area came to be occupied:
The Lanmè Frape area of Canaan is part of a large tract of land which the then government declared for “public use” (utilité publique) two months after the earthquake in March 2010. Tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in the earthquake have subsequently relocated there, but many face eviction from people claiming ownership of the land.
Beyond the previously “official” camp communities of Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville, it is believed that tens of thousands more families have moved to the surrounding area since the earthquake. Over the last year, the UCLBP has lobbied the international community for funding to make investments in urban planning for the area. According to minutes from the February 2013 Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF) meeting (PDF), the head of the UCLBP, Odnell David, made a presentation requesting $15 million as part of a $50 million project to address the situation in Canaan-Jerusalem. The government “has a moral obligation to take care of these people and undertake investment,” David said. Yet, although donor countries all supported the use of HRF funds for investments in the Canaan area, when funding decisions were made this September, no resources were allocated for the project.
There were also other motives for addressing the displacement crisis in Canaan. According to the official minutes, the David explained that, “this area poses a threat to neighboring industrial and touristic development.” Two weeks later, at the next HRF meeting (PDF), he described how this “project is the starting point for the larger project of developing the entire northern area of the city of Port-au-Prince.”
Haiti’s Apparel Factories: Reports Find Wage Theft, Sexual Harassment, and Poor Safety and Sanitation Standards
Several new reports released in the past two weeks by the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), Gender Action, and Better Work Haiti examine working conditions in Haiti’s garment factories and find that most workers are not being paid the wages they are legally owed, even as they are subject to unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, sexual harassment, and other abusive treatment.
A new report [PDF] released this week by the WRC, an organization that monitors working conditions in apparel factories producing products sold in the U.S. market, finds that most Haitian garment workers are subject to wage theft. The New York Times’ Randal Archibold and Steven Greenhouse reported this week that
[t]he report …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.
The WRC report states:
Tacitly complicit in this theft of wages are the major North American apparel brands and retailers, like Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart, that are buyers of garments from Haiti. Although most, if not all, of these firms are well-aware of this law-breaking, they continue with business as usual, profiting from the lower prices that they can obtain from factories that cheat their workers of legally owed wages.
In a development that has received much media attention, lawyers working on behalf of Haitian cholera victims brought a class action lawsuit against the United Nations on Wednesday over U.N. troops’ role in introducing the cholera bacteria to Haiti three years ago. The suit was filed in a federal court in New York on behalf of five named victims by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the law firm of Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt, with more plaintiffs expected to join. Since it is a class action complaint, the amount of damages sought is unspecified, although it does include $2.2 billion in order to provide full funding for the Haitian and Dominican governments’ cholera eradication plan, which was created with the U.N. but is only about 9 percent funded some 8 months after it was unveiled.
The IJDH warned the U.N. in May that such a lawsuit would be forthcoming if the organization continued to dodge responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti. This Friday, October 19 will mark three years since the first cholera case was reported in Haiti in over a century.
"Haiti today has the worst cholera epidemic in the world," said Miami attorney Ira Kurzban, who announced the lawsuit at a joint news conference with the human rights groups Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).
"Before these events, Haiti did not know of cholera for 100 years. Cholera was brought to Haiti by U.N. troops," Kurzban said.
Asked to comment on the suit, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said: "We don't discuss claims brought against the U.N."
The United Nations was working on the ground in Haiti to provide assistance to those affected, he added. It was committed to do all it can do "to help the people of Haiti overcome the cholera epidemic," Haq said.
Although the U.N. has yet to admit responsibility for the epidemic that has killed over 8,300 people and sickened over 675,000, at least 10 scientific studies have linked the outbreak to U.N. troops from Nepal. As IJDH explains in a press release
On September 19, in an event attended by U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White, USAID and Haitian government officials, the U.S.’ largest post-earthquake program came to its official close. According to Ambassador White, the $155 million Haiti Recovery Initiative (HRI) “is among the U.S. Government’s biggest earthquake response programs, and throughout its entire lifetime, the program has remained committed to helping Haitians rebuild their communities and work with national and local leadership to prioritize and respond to community needs.” But, as the program comes to a close, there remain more questions than answers as to what was accomplished.
In the first days after the earthquake in Haiti, USAID awarded contracts to Chemonics International and Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), each with a value of up to $50 million dollars. The contracts were awarded through USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, which aims to support "U.S. foreign policy objectives…in priority countries in crisis,” according to their website. Chemonics’ contract with USAID, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, explains that “OTI seeks to focus its resources where they will have the greatest impact on U.S. diplomatic and security interests.” Further, while noting that “OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy,” they can “identify and support key individuals and groups…In short, OTI acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will.”
A press release from USAID announcing the end of the program lists a number of interventions taken by OTI: provision of emergency materials to those displaced, removal of rubble, cash-for-work programs and rehabilitation of government infrastructure, among others. While the press release contains few details, quarterly and annual reports on the OTI website are supposed to provide greater detail -- yet there hasn’t been an update posted in over a year-and-a-half. When asked about the lack of disclosure in December 2012, a USAID official responded that “Due to USAID's website overhaul, more information will be available in the New Year.” No such information has been posted.
USAID Refuses to Release Info to Prevent “Demonstrations”
What information has been made public about OTI’s operations in Haiti has called into question the efficiency and performance of OTI’s contractors. In October 2012, the USAID Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an audit on the HRI program, finding that the program was “not on track” to complete its projects on schedule. The audit also found that Chemonics was operating with little to no oversight on the part of USAID. Performance indicators were “not well-defined” and only one performance evaluation was completed despite the contract stating that “they should be conducted between two and four times a year.” A previous USAID OIG audit found that OTI was not performing internal financial reviews, despite the contractors “expending millions of dollars rapidly…in a high-risk environment.”
Documents obtained from Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by HRRW have redacted cost information, and the contractually mandated report on to whom Chemonics distributed funds has not been released either. After HRRW appealed the redactions, USAID responded in July, upholding their decision and in fact going even further, reissuing the document that had previously been released, with the entire Statement of Work redacted (the previous version had redacted just part of it). As can be seen in the highlighted section of the image, below, USAID justifies the lack of transparency by stating that “if the information is released, we believe that the information will be used selectively and out of context,” and that “to release the information in such a way could willfully stir up false allegations about the HRI and cause strife within target communities.” Finally, USAID notes that the “release of the information in the Statement of Work would likely instigate demonstrations and create an unsafe environment in which to implement and/or develop programs.” It is unclear how or why the projects listed in their press release would lead to such a violent reaction.
The Organization of American States (OAS) will send electoral monitors to Haiti despite the election having not been scheduled, reports AFP. According to Frederic Bolduc, the OAS Special Representative to Haiti, the observers “intend to arrive several months in advance to help authorities register voters and then count votes.” Bolduc pointed out that setting the date of the election was up to the Haitian government and that the “OAS will not decide on a date.”
Elections, which were supposed to be held in November 2011, have yet to be scheduled as conflicts between the president and parliament over the electoral law continue. The head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, told the U.N. Security Council (PDF) in late August that the “delay in the holding of long-overdue partial senatorial, municipal and local elections is of increasing concern and poses a series of risks to the stabilization process.” If elections are not held by January 2014, the terms of many parliamentarians will end, potentially shutting down an entire branch of Haiti’s government and allowing President Martelly to rule by decree.
On a trip to Washington D.C. last week, Haitian Senator Steven Benoit put the blame for the electoral delays squarely on Martelly. Benoit noted that “after two years of hide and seek” with the electoral reforms, formation of the electoral council and submission of the electoral law, there will not be time to reach an agreement before the terms of parliamentarians come to an end. Noting that Martelly told a crowd the previous week that for the next two years he would “run Haiti as he saw fit,” Benoit warned that “having President Martelly run Haiti without a Congress and without holding elections” would ensure a return to “political instability and turmoil.”
As with previous elections, the international community is footing the bill. A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project, funded by the U.S., Canada, Brazil, the E.U. and others has already disbursed over $401,000 and has estimated the cost of holding elections to be over $32 million. The UNDP project aims to “strengthen the technical and strategic capabilities” of the Haitian electoral council, but the council itself has come under increasing scrutiny. Last week Benoit accused Martelly of having “done all he could to have a hand-picked electoral council.” According to AFP, the involvement of the OAS “elicited numerous complaints by opposition parties, which feel Haiti should determine its own ability to hold elections.” The reaction of the opposition may be a result of the OAS’s role during Haiti’s last election.
The United Nations mission in Haiti, already facing a credibility crisis over its introduction of cholera, is facing new allegations that one of its troops raped an 18-year old woman this past weekend in the town of Leogane, according to police inspector Wilson Hippolite. In an e-mailed statement, the U.N. acknowledged that they “are aware of the allegations made against a military staff member” and noted that a “preliminary investigation has been launched to determine the facts of the case.”
According to Metropole Haiti, the alleged assault occurred off National Highway #2 on Saturday when the 18-year old woman was approached by a Sri Lankan U.N. military officer. A Justice of the Peace, conducting a preliminary investigation, visited the site of the alleged assault on Sunday and found a used condom. Further tests are being conducted, according to the report. The accused has been moved to a different MINUSTAH base in another part of the country as the investigation unfolds. As of July 30, Sri Lanka had over 860 troops stationed in Haiti, making it the third largest troop contributing country to the 9 year-old mission.
This is but the latest in a string of sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the U.N. mission in Haiti. And it’s not the first time Sri Lankan troops have been involved; in 2007 over 100 Sri Lankan members of MINUSTAH were repatriated after allegations of “transactional sex with underage girls.” In fact, according to the U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit, there have been 78 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by members of MINUSTAH reported in just the last 7 years.
Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, on a trip to Europe to ensure continued donor support, was asked by France 24’s Marc Perelman about the ongoing cholera epidemic and U.N. responsibility. Perelman notes that “all the scientific evidence up to date points to the U.N.” but questioned Lamothe as to why the Haitian government has “never pushed for a public apology.” Lamothe stressed that the government has tried to address the issue through “direct dialogue” with the U.N., but also noted that the U.N. has an obvious “moral responsibility” to address the epidemic.
The U.N., in addition to not issuing an apology, has never accepted responsibility for the deadly epidemic that has killed over 8,260 and sickened over 675,000 in the last three years. A U.N.-backed cholera elimination plan has been unable to raise the required funds to adequately address the issue, despite Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s assurance in late 2012 that he would “use every opportunity” to raise the necessary funds. A high-level donor meeting to raise funds for the plan, scheduled for early October in Washington, has now been postponed until 2014. It had been expected that Mr. Ban, as well as World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, would attend. The plan, which requires some $450 million over its first two years, remains less than half funded.
In the meantime, cholera continues to ravage the country as the response capabilities of national actors diminish. In a bulletin earlier this week, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that “resources for cholera response, including funding and staff, have been in steady decline since 2012.” OCHA concludes by stating that “if this trend continues, it would be virtually impossible to effectively and efficiently respond to the epidemic in the event of sudden outbreaks.” The lack of adequate resources also means that detailed data on where cholera outbreaks are occurring and how many are dying is becoming harder and harder to come by. The actual toll of this imported disease could be much higher than the official numbers indicate.
In late August, members of the U.N. Security Council and countries contributing to MINUSTAH met to discuss the extension of the mission’s mandate. Not a single country (PDF) raised the issue of U.N. responsibility for cholera, though many praised the Secretary General’s efforts to eliminate it. MINUSTAH’s proposed budget for 2013/2014 is $576,619,000, more than enough to fully fund the cholera elimination plan over its first two years.
In light of continued U.N. denials of responsibility, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux continue to seek legal redress on behalf of over 6,000 cholera victims. An earlier claim brought to the U.N. was dismissed as “not receivable” in February. A recent Al Jazeera Fault Lines documentary by Sebastian Walker takes a detailed look at the evolution of the epidemic, its impact on rural communities and the responsibility of the U.N. In it, Walker interviews Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary General Eduardo Del Buey. After Del Buey reads, verbatim, the U.N. press release from February, Walker pressures him to explain the decision:
Human rights defenders in Haiti are reporting new death threats, and seem to be openly persecuted by powerful individuals and groups, as Mark Snyder and Other Worlds describe today. In an article posted on Huffington Post, Snyder profiles the case of attorney Patrice Florvilus and the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed. Snyder writes:
"Those before you were strong. Now they're all dead. Stop what you are doing, or the same will happen to you."
Those were the words delivered to Frena Florvilus, Director of Education and Advocacy of the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), early on the morning of August 11 by one of four unidentified men who attempted to enter DOP's office. The threat echoed numerous others that have been leveled against the DOP office and its staff since they took on the case of a young man who died in police custody within hours of his April 15 arrest, his body left covered with bruises and wounds inflicted by a severe beating. DOP has also been targeted for its work to support displaced peoples who face violent eviction from their camps, by the government and private landowners who are determined to rid the country of camps.
Among the latter may be former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier himself, as
Reynald Georges, a lawyer representing Haiti's ex-dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, has brought formal accusations of arson and "association with wrongdoers" (conspiracy) against DOP's founder and director, Patrice Florvilus, and five others. The accused received criminal court summons for Monday, August 19. Their lawyers filed an objection and request that the charges be dropped, but the prosecutor's office has reissued the summons for Thursday, August 22.
On Monday, hundreds from the displacement camps and community organizations in Port-au-Prince marched to the courthouse together to show their support. A second march will occur Thursday.