Environmental, Labor Concerns Overlooked in Rush to Build Caracol Park, Part II
|Monday, 09 July 2012 08:26|
This is the second installment looking at the New York Times in depth investigation into the Caracol industrial park. For part one, click here.
Before the Haiti deal was sealed, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. urged American and international officials to reconsider, given what it described in a detailed memo as Sae-A’s egregious antiunion repression, including “acts of violence and intimidation” in Guatemala, where Homero Fuentes, who monitors factories for American retailers, calls Sae-A “one of the major labor violators.”
The five-page memo “accused Sae-A of using bribes, death threats and imprisonment to prevent and break up unions.” Sontag describes the allegations against Sae-A in some detail, and notes that while “Gail W. Strickler… the assistant United States trade representative for textiles, says she considered Sae-A ‘an exemplary corporate citizen,’” meanwhile “Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, calls the company ‘a big player in a dirty industry with a track record that suggests a degree of ruthlessness even worse than the norm.’”
“The way the Koreans treat the Nicaraguan workers is awful,” Mr. Joseph said. “They just treat them like nothing. Just: ‘Do your job. If you don’t do it, I’ll call somebody else to do it.’ ”
Sae-A Chasing Lower Costs
According to the formal minutes of a labor-management meeting, a Sae-A executive accused union leaders of saddling the company with expenses that would force the factory’s closing. “It should be made clear,” the executive said, “that the members of the board of directors would simply go to work in another country and the real losers would be the workers.”Following continued confrontation with the union, the factory closed in 2011, yet as Sontag points out much of their production had already shifted to Nicaragua, another beneficiary of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). And, as Mr Garwood, the Sae-A advisor pointed out, once trade preferences for Nicaragua expire in 2014, “a lot of product orders now going to factories in Nicaragua can go through the Haiti operation.” Which, as independent journalist Tate Watkins points out, begs the question:
With so much of the project’s costs being borne by USAID and IDB and dependent upon favorable tax and tariff deals in both Haiti and the U.S., you can’t help but wonder whether the company’s product orders will still be going “through the Haiti operation” in 10 years.Of course, while labor rights, environmental degradation and social concerns may have been side-tracked in the race to push forward the flagship reconstruction project, the program’s backers were aware of the risks. IDB manager José Agustín Aguerre tells Sontag:
“But to be honest, in a country like Haiti, maquiladoras are a good opportunity, a quick employment generator. Yes, it’s low-paying, yes, it’s unstable, yes, maybe tomorrow there will a better opportunity for firms elsewhere and they will just leave. But everyone thought this was a risk worth taking.”But Etienne, Sontag writes, worries that “Caracol will undermine the nearby Codevi industrial park, the only unionized garment operation in the country.