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Weeks Long Strike in Haiti Cripples Garment Production

Brands making in Haiti may be best served to start tapping backup plans.

Haitian workers are fed up with too-low pay, and despite strikes that have been ongoing since May, they still aren’t being heard and it’s starting to cripple the sector. Dozens of factories have shuttered without workers, and some of those factories, according to reports, are making product for Levi’s and Fruit of the Loom.

Workers took to the streets of Port-Au-Prince, the country’s capital, on Monday demanding higher wages and adherence to an 8-hour workday. At present, workers in textile factories earn roughly 300 Haitian gourdes ($4.76) a day, according to Reuters, and what they want is 800 gourdes ($12.71) a day.

The problem, apart from that pay rate being well below a living wage, is that inflation is surging and fuel prices are too, but wages are still stuck below what’s needed.

(Read more about places where labor practices aren’t quite considered ethical: Report: The World’s 10 Worst Countries for Workers)

So far textile factory owners and managers aren’t budging on the wage budget and they’ve called in the Haitian government to quell the protests, even threatening to pick up their businesses and leave the country if the government can’t make the madness stop.

The textile sector accounts for 90 percent of Haiti’s exports, and the country enjoys trade privileges with the U.S. under the Haiti HOPE/HELP Act, which has created more than 40,000 jobs in the country—so, needless to say, Haiti can’t afford much turmoil in its textile sector.

In identical letters to Haitian Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant last week, six textile companies (MGA Haiti, Astro Carton d’Haiti, Haiti Cheung Won, Textile Youm Kwang, Pacific Sports Haiti and Wilbes Haitian) implored the government to act before they’re forced to look elsewhere for their businesses.

“Total cost competitiveness, quality production and the proximity (to) the US. were the reasons we selected Haiti while betting on major improvements on salary predictability and political stability,” the letter noted, according to Reuters. “If those benefits no longer (exist), we will have to make other strategic (arrangements to) move from Haiti to other places where there is a clear state strategy to boost investments and protect investors while creating and protecting decent jobs.”

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Already, representatives from some of the factories said they’ve lost between $50,000 and $60,000 as production is largely on hold with workers not at their posts.

For now, as with most labor protests over pay, the government is concerned that if it raises the wage too much, the country will fork over its competitive edge and brands and retailers will instead turn to places like the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua for manufacturing.