HLLN Press Release
December 16, 2006
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Haitian activists point out the lack of worker protection in the recently passed US trade legislation that adds a new provision to the Caribbean Basin Initiative, entitled the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE), which allows duty-free treatment for certain products from Haiti.
Statement of Haitian Activists on the HOPE legislation passed by Congress
December 16, 2006:
Fondasyon Mapou, Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN) and Democracy for Haiti do not support the Haiti trade provision (Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act of 2006 (HOPE) that was part of the tax-and-trade bill passed by the 109th session of Congress before it adjourned for the New Year.
The Haiti provision was also strongly challenged by some Southern lawmakers, who said it would further erode jobs in their states' textile industries. However, Haitian activists' objections are on altogether different grounds.
HLLN, Fondasyon Mapou and Democracy for Haiti reject the legislation's Haiti provisions because it fails to imposes labor standards and imposes patronizing, and burdensome conditions on the Haitian people.
The newly passed HOPE Act makes Haiti eligible for new trade benefits, in addition to those it currently receives under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). Under current law, apparel imports from Haiti qualify for duty-free treatment only if they are made from U.S. or Haitian fabric. "The HOPE Act will also allow apparel imports from Haiti to enter the United States duty free if at least 50 percent of the value of inputs and/or costs of processing are from any combination of U.S. FTA and regional preference program partner countries. The quantity of apparel eligible for duty-free treatment under this provision is subject to a limit in the first year equivalent to 1% of overall U.S. apparel imports. This limit will expand gradually over five years, reaching 2% in the fifth year.
The Haiti provision also removes duties for three years on a specified quantity of woven apparel imports from Haiti made from fabric produced anywhere in the world. Finally, the HOPE Act will allow automotive wire harnesses imported from Haiti that contain at least 50% by value of materials produced in Haiti, U.S. FTA or regional preference program countries to qualify for duty-free treatment.
Although the undersigned Haitian activists welcomes the US bipartisan desire to assist Haiti with job creation that is evidenced by the passage of the legislation, we continue to denounce the legislation's neoliberal conditions that enrich only the few while further impoverishing the many; its failure to ensure labor standards, workers' rights, enforcement and employer accountability.
The Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act of 2006 (HOPE), introduced by Congressman William Thomas of California is the same as the HERO Act. In 2004 this bill was introduced in the House of Representative by Congressman Conyers and the Senate by
Senator DeWine. We at HLLN, fondasyon Mapou and Democracy for Haiti, along with our Network partners abroad and in Haiti giving voice to the plight of voiceless Haitians, did not endorse it then, and we wish to reaffirm our position now that the legislation has been passed. HOPE was combined to follow the path of AGOA, a preferential treatment bill which supposedly should have worked wonders for the African economy. AGOA has done little for the African worker and domestic economy, so why will it be any different in Haiti. HOPE formerly known as HERO is its identical twin and the concept behind it remains the same.
This newly passed legislation amends the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (formerly the Caribbean Basin Initiative) that already provides for Haitian apparel to enter the U.S. duty free but on a temporary renewable basis. The Haiti (HOPE) Act makes the current duty free agreement permanent and subjects it to new onerous conditions. The HOPE legislation requires the U.S. president to certify to Congress that Haiti has established or is making progress in establishing a ‘free trade', market-based economy that rules out subsidies, price controls and government ownership of economic assets; that eliminates barriers to U.S. trade and investment by creating an environment conducive to foreign investment protecting intellectual property rights and resolving bilateral trade disputes.
In 2003 the Inter-American Dialogue organized the conference, which led to the language of the HERO Act; then, the stakeholders of HOPE had an opportunity to seek the input of Haitians workers. Unfortunately, none of the major Haitian unions' leaders were invited to voice the concerns of the workers; however, if Haitian workers had a chance to speak they would have most likely addressed some of the following issues and suggested that any trade agreement to help Haiti must include provisions to require that Haitian factory owners must:
- Ø Respect and obey the local minimum wage laws
Ø Have health care facility within the vicinity for workers usage
Ø Respect workers' rights to join and/or form unions
Ø Set reasonable and achievable quotas rate for workers daily
Ø Establish an environment for workers to work in humane
Ø Not solicit sexual favors from workers in exchange for
Ø Not relocate Haitian peasants from fertile land in order to
Ø do an act of goodwill by building schools for the destitute
children in the area where they do business
Recently Rep. Kendrick Meek of Florida was quoted in the Miami Herald saying that “the average Haitian garment worker earns $4 a day,” when in fact a Haitian factory worker's day consists of 10 hours of work for 70 gourdes per day, which is roughly $2 US dollars (current exchange rate is 37.50 gourdes to $1 US); a worker is not allowed to leave the factory until he/she has completed the quota for the day. The worker spends 30 gourdes on transportation and 15 gourdes on food per day. Overall a Haitian worker takes roughly 25 gourdes home. Garment workers get paid bi-weekly. Often time they have already borrowed from friends more than what they earn within the two weeks period in order to survive.
This HOPE legislation completely ignores the sweatshop conditions and well-documented employer abuses and exploitations endured by the Haitian workers. We want trade agreements that take labor standards, worker rights and enforcement seriously, not just tiny Haitian job creation trade agreements that benefits the wealthy Haitian employers while leaving Haitian workers in the same near-slavery working conditions, without union protections, labor standards, or that ignores how the Haitian factory owners oftentimes end up not even paying the Haitian workers their wages at all, even though Haiti already has the lowest wages in the
U.S. legislation purported to "help Haitians" must consider and provide for these realities and inequities, otherwise they are useless to helping the majority of Haitian workers and Haiti's best interests.
In essence, this so-called "HOPE" legislation will not assist the people of Haiti; it was drafted and promoted by factory owners for the benefit of the owners at the expense of the workers. Several labor unions in Haiti had rejected the bill, in its various forms, since its inception in 2003.
Therefore, Fondasyon Mapou, Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN) and Democracy for Haiti herein give voice to the Haitian workers in rejecting this newly passed Haiti legislation or any other U.S. legislation that specifically ignores the plight of the majority of Haitian workers in Haiti vis-à-vis the sweatshop kingpins well-documented worker abuses.
Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network
Democracy for Haiti