As Caracol Industrial Park Progresses, Scrutiny of Problems Grows
The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles reports on the planned Caracol Industrial Park in Haiti today, noting that while the project’s funders tout it as “the most visible symbol of post-quake progress”, it remains a source of controversy. Charles writes:
Desperate for any good news after the devastating January 2010 earthquake, the Haitian government signed off on the 600-acre industrial park in this remote rural village without preparing for how the region should eventually look — or absorb the promised jobs. Only now is a zoning plan being developed, but residents and Haiti watchers wonder if it’s coming too late.
A major issue is what the effect will be of an estimated influx of 300,000 people into the area, where town populations range from 1,500 to 25,000. Charles reports:
“When you look at the social problems that Cité Soleil poses today, you have to ask, did it have to be that way?” said Michèle Oriol, executive secretary of Haiti’s Inter-ministerial Commission on Territorial Planning, which has objected to the park’s location, and that of a U.S.-financed housing development just off the main commercial corridor.
Alex Dupuy, Haiti-born sociology professor at Wesleyan University, comments:
“It’s about tapping a source of cheap labor…They did the same thing in Port-au-Prince, which had people leaving the countryside because of the free-trade policies that have devastated the Haitian agriculture sector. So the fear that the region will be flooded is very real.”
Dupuy adds that the push to support the garment manufacturing industry “has absolutely nothing to do with creating a sustainable growth economy in Haiti.”
hasn't been able to save up a year's rent yet. Twenty-three months after the catastrophe that killed hundreds of thousands, she and her children are still living under a tent in one of the capital's hundreds of squalid refugee camps.
HGW also notes that:
A recent study by the U.S.-based Solidarity Center, which is linked to the AFL-CIO trade union federation, determined that a "living wage" for a worker with two children is 749 dollars a month – almost five times the average monthly wage.
Labor rights are also a serious issue in the garment industry. On the same day that officials from the U.S., IDB and Haitian government laid the cornerstone of the future industrial park, an investigation by Better Work Haiti found "evidence of violations of freedom of association" at other Haitian textile factories. Until September 2011 there was only one union in the garment industry and none in Port-au-Prince. Workers however organized the first sector-wide union (SOTA) this past fall, obtaining registration from the Haitian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs on September 16. Over the next two weeks, six of seven members of the new executive committee were fired. The most recent Better Work Haiti report, which “uncovered a higher number of violations in the areas of core labour standards than what [was] observed in the previous assessments”, is available here.
Her 2010 report for the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum called for a "high-road approach" to the Haitian apparel industry's expansion, including unionising workers and providing welfare programmes to raise their living standards.
For further background, an Al Jazeera video report last year looked at the garment factories in Haiti. In the video, Sebastian Walker speaks with Yannick Etienne, a member of the worker rights organization Batay Ouvriye, who tells Walker that the factories lead to, "the reproduction of poverty." Also, for more background information, The Real News Network aired a three part series with Didier Dominique, another member of Batay Ouvriye. The report examined working conditions in the factories, and the ability of workers to unionize.