The political situation in Haiti is now dire: there hasn’t been an election since 2016 and there are no elected government officials left. Armed gangs control chunks of the country and getting goods in and out of Haiti is fraught with difficulty. A garment worker was killed when a gang went into one factory, lorry drivers are being kidnapped for ransoms, and there is trouble at the ports.
The closing of garment factories due to the instability in the country is of deep concern to Yannick Etienne of workers’ movement Batay Ouvriye. “It’s a very difficult, tough time for the sector.
“The garment sector employed 60,000 people and exported $1 billion worth of products to America last year. There are now 58,500 jobs in this sector.
“I hope that companies, instead of shutting down, will keep some products to be assembled in Haiti. The country cannot die.”
Like Kalpona, Yannick is emphatic that boycotting brands is not the answer. “Boycotting is a double-edged sword, and there is one edge that really cuts the workers, we have to be careful. We may ask consumers to support the companies to change their attitude, but given the situation right now, we are in dire need of jobs. It’s very important to understand what is at stake. We don’t ask people to boycott.”
Instead, she wants support to help change the way workers negotiate pay with factory owners. Inflation is currently at more than 50% and the daily minimum wage of 685 gourdes (around £3.60) is not enough, she says, to allow workers to support themselves and their families. To brands still manufacturing in Haiti, she sends a plea to them to continue operating in the country.
“Workers need these jobs with better salaries, working conditions and social benefits.”