Alerts

An Appeal to Walt Disney Company

April, 01 1996 Share

A 1996 update to the report "The U.S. in Haiti" by the National Labor Committee

 Made in Haiti with 28 Cent-an-Hour Wages

Disney in Haiti: Are Human Rights Campaigns Necessary? (1997)

"The U.S. in Haiti" (1996)

"Haiti After the Coup" (1993)

 
disney logos


 
Disney repeatedly states that, despite vigorous and numerous attempts to investigate conditions, it can find no violations at its contractor plants in Haiti.  The enclosed letter, to which we have received no formal reply, tells a different story...

 

 


An Open Letter to Walt Disney

May 29, 1996

Michael Eisner, CEO
Walt Disney Company
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91522

Dear Mr. Eisner:

 The National Labor Committee fully supports Walt Disney's decision to source production in Haiti.  The Haitian people desperately need investment and jobs, but they need jobs with dignity, under conditions which respect their basic human rights, and which pay wages that allow them and their families to survive.

 The National Labor Committee would like to open a serious dialogue with Walt Disney representatives regarding working conditions and wages in Haitian factories where Disney children's clothing is currently being produced.  The issues raised in this letter and the proposals which follow are the result of ongoing discussions with the workers in Haiti, as well as with concerned consumers and human rights activists across the United States and Canada.  If Haiti's new democracy is to survive, it must be based on social and economic justice.

 Neither the National Labor Committee nor the Haitian workers we are in contact with want this attempt at dialogue, or the documentation of conditions under which Disney garments are produced, to result in Disney's pulling out of Haiti.  Leaving Haiti would be a terrible mistake. Rather, in all good faith, the National Labor Committee and the coalition of religious, labor, student, human rights and grassroots organizations we work with, want to join the Walt Disney Company in an attempt to improve conditions in these Haitian factories.

 Currently, the Walt Disney Company has licensing agreements with two U.S. apparel manufacturers, L.V. Myles and H.H. Cutler, which in turn contract production to four assembly factories in Haiti:  L.V. Myles, N.S. Mart, Classic and Gilanex.  Children's clothing carrying the images of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pocahontas, Mickey Mouse and the Lion King is sewn in these factories and then exported to the U.S. for sale in Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, KMart and other retailers.

 

Children of Disney Worker Going to Bed without Food

 

Living on the Edge of Misery:

 On a recent trip to Haiti in late April, I had the opportunity to visit the home of a Disney worker who lived in the Delmars neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.  She worked at N.S. Mart (Plant Number 32) in the Sonapi Industrial Park where she sewed Pocahontas and Mickey Mouse shirts.  Her home was typical of those of other Disney employees.

 She was a single mother with four young children.  They lived in a one-room windowless shack, 8 by 11 feet wide, lit by one bare light bulb and with a tin roof that leaked.  The room contained:  one table, three straight-backed chairs and two small beds.  That is all the room would fit.  I counted four drinking glasses and three plastic plates.  There was no fan, no TV, no radio, no toys, no refrigerator, no stove, no running water.  She had to buy water by the bucket and carry it home.  The toilet was a hole in the ground, shared with ten other families.

 The children were 3 1/2, 8, 11 and 14 years old.  They were very small for their age.  The mother told us that when she had left for work that morning, she was only able to leave them six gourdes (30 cents U.S.).  The four children had to feed themselves for the day on 30 cents--7 1/2 cents per child.  Her children had been sent home from school two and a half weeks before because she had been unable to pay their tuition.  Tuition for the three older children totalled $2.63 a week, but this was more than the mother earned in a full day sewing Disney shirts.

 One child had malaria, another a painful dysentery, but their mother was unable to afford the medicines, so they had to go without and simply bear it.

 A Jesuit priest with whom we spoke in Haiti, who had had a similar stomach infection, told us it cost over $30 to purchase the necessary antibiotics.  But this woman's salary making Pocahontas shirts was only $10.77 a week!  Antibiotics for her daughter would have cost nearly three weeks' wages, which was impossible to afford.

 Before leaving, I asked the family what they would eat that night.  "Nothing," they responded.  There was no food.  For this family, there were many days when they could not afford to eat.  Instead of eating, they would just go to bed.  The mother slept in one small bed, the daughters in the other, while the two boys slept on the ground under the table.   No one in this home had ever seen a Disney movie.
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Working at N.S. Mart Sewing Shirts for Disney:

 The mother had years of experience as a sewer.  The production quota set at N.S. Mart is excessively high.  On her assembly line, working furiously under constant pressure, she handled 375 Pocahontas shirts an hour--shirts which sell at Wal-Mart for $10.97 each.  Yet her average weekly wage was only $10.77!  She earned the minimum wage of 28 cents an hour.

 No one can survive on 28 cent-an-hour wages--even in Haiti, which is not a cheap place to live.  Seventy percent of what Haiti consumes is imported, including basic staples like rice, beans and corn meal.  Food can actually be as expensive in Haiti as in the U.S.  Workers producing Disney garments in Haiti are thin and tired looking.  They and their families are always at the edge of hunger, sinking ever deeper into debt and misery.  Far from being the exception, this woman's life and her story are typical.

 The following day, we met with a large group of N.S. Mart workers, all of whom sewed Disney garments.  They told us that the majority of workers at N.S. Mart--almost everyone--earn just 28 cents an hour, which is $2.22 for a full eight-hour day.  And, they reported, at times they are short-changed on their hours and pay.

 The workers also told us the plant is hot, dusty and poorly lit.  Some complained about having trouble with their eyesight and respiratory problems.

 According to the workers, the production quotas and piece rates the company sets are impossible to reach.  Supervisors put enormous, constant pressure on the workers to go faster.  Supervisors yell, scream, threaten and curse the workers.  Among the management, Saint Hillaire is particularly abusive.  If you are young and pretty and a supervisor wants you as his mistress, you either give in to him or you are fired.  Sexual harassment is common.

 The toilets are filthy.  Rats are everywhere.  The holding tank for drinking water is covered only with a light piece of metal, which the rats have no trouble getting under.  In the last week of April, the N.S. Mart workers told us, rats that had been poisoned were floating in the water tank.

 If you dared to speak up, to complain to N.S. Mart management about these conditions or about the pay scale, you would be fired, period.  Every worker we spoke with told us that if the company even suspected that they were interested in organizing to claim their rights, they would be thrown out of the factory immediately.

 The most fundamental human and workers rights of the N.S. Mart employees are being violated on a daily basis.

Pay Day for Disney Workers at the L.V. Myles Factory:

 Friday, April 26, was pay day for the workers sewing Disney garments at the L.V. Myles plant (Number 30) in the Sonapi Industrial Park.  A meeting with the L.V. Myles workers had been set up by our colleague and contact person in Haiti.  As we waited outside the gates of the park, we wondered if conditions in the L.V. Myles plant would be different--better--than what is the norm among the maquila factories.

 L.V. Myles management describes their factory as "a model," as "the best you will find."  Also, Disney has had a long sourcing relationship with L.V. Myles, dating back some twenty years.  Albeit a little reluctantly, one L.V. Myles officer explained to a U.S. journalist that L.V. Myles definitely pays its workers above the legal minimum wage in Haiti.  When pressed, he said that L.V. Myles pays between 38 and 42 cents U.S. an hour, which would amount to weekly wages ranging from $16.72 to $18.28.
 
  At 4:00 p.m. the workers began to leave the park.  Soon there were forty or fifty L.V. Myles workers crowded around us, and when they left, others took their places.  We had a chance to review dozens of pay stubs.  We could find no worker who earned more than 30 U.S. cents an hour.  We were also told that some workers in the plant, perhaps a dozen, did not even earn the minimum wage.  One possible explanation for these discrepancies could be that L.V. Myles factory representatives include managers' salaries in their calculations, which would drive up the average wage paid in the plant.

 The weekly earnings recorded on the pay stubs we reviewed ranged from $9.97 to $15.23, the latter including seven hours of overtime pay.  The pay stub of one woman shown below provides an example.  L.V. Myles workers are paid bi-weekly.  For two weeks of work, this woman, a sewing machine operator, earned 384.75 gourdes or $23.67.  This equates to $11.84 a week or 28 cents an hour.  We have deleted her name and identification number to protect her.

 pay stub

 


Exchange Rate Calculation:  The Haitian currency is the gourde. The exchange rate in April 1996 was 16.25 gourdes to U.S. $1.00, making a Haitian gourde worth $.06 (U.S.).  For 84 hours of work, she earned 384.75 gourdes, or $23.67--28 cents an hour. The legal minimum wage in Haiti is 36 gourdes/day, or $2.22 (U.S.), which comes to $.28 (U.S.) an hour for an eight hour day. Earning the minimum wage, a Haitian worker assembling clothing for export to the U.S. would earn $13.29 (U.S.) a week, $57.60 (U.S.) per month and $691.20 (U.S.) for an entire year.

 At the L.V. Myles factory, as at N.S. Mart, the daily piece rate quota is set impossibly high.  For example, in eight hours, the workers must attach 1600 collars on Disney t-shirts or close to 1600 shoulders, which means completing 200 pieces every hour.  The work pace is relentless.  If you get up to wash your face, the owner yells at you.  The workers told us that they are constantly screamed at by the supervisors.  "They treat you like garbage," they said, "they don't look at you as a human being, but as a piece of shit."  They continued, "The owners won't even talk to us, and if they don't like your face, or you're sick, they fire you."  The supervisors pace the assembly lines clapping their hands and shrieking at the workers to go faster.  At the end of the day, the workers are exhausted.

Entering the Assembly Factories at 7:00 a.m.

 

Crying Out in Disbelief:

 Prior to leaving for Haiti, I went to a Wal-Mart store on Long Island and purchased several Disney garments which had been made in Haiti.  I showed these to the crowd of workers, who immediately recognized the clothing they had made.  Everyone pointed to the parts of the shirt that they had sewed while explaining what the quota was for those operations.  I asked the L.V. Myles workers if they had any idea what these shirts--the ones they had made--sell for in the U.S.  I held up a size 4 Pocahontas t-shirt.  I showed them the Wal-Mart price tag indicating $10.97.  But it was only when I translated the $10.97 into the local currency--178.26 gourdes--that, all at once, in unison, the workers screamed with shock, disbelief, anger and a mixture of pain and sadness, as their eyes remained fixed on the Pocahontas shirt.  People kept yelling, excited.  They simply could not believe what they had heard.  In a single day, they worked on hundreds of Disney shirts.  Yet the sales price of just one shirt in the U.S. amounted to nearly 5 days of their wages! (G178.26/36 minimum daily wage = 4.95 days)  In fact, one production line of 20 workers assembles 1,000 Disney shirts in an eight hour period.  In effect, each worker assembles 50 Disney shirts in a day, which at $10.97 each, would sell for a total of $548.50 in the U.S.  For her eight hours work sewing these shirts, the L.V. Myles employee earns just $2.22!  You can only imagine their shock.
 
"When You Enter These Factories, You Enter Misery":

 We asked about other working conditions at the L.V. Myles plant.  We were told that, along with the constant humiliation of being screamed at, the plant was very hot and there was "a lot" of sexual harassment, just as there is at N.S. Mart.  Here too, the workers complained that they were sometimes short changed on their pay, and always underpaid sick days and vacation time.  Even those L.V. Myles workers who worked overtime on Saturday were not being paid the legally required seventh day bonus.  Special pressure is also put on women workers who are pregnant, in an attempt to force them to quit so the company will not have to pay maternity benefits.  There is not even a tiny infirmary at the L.V. Myles factory, nor are any medicines available, and there is no child care.

 Further, the mostly women workers told us, "It is impossible to protest any of these conditions.  If you say a word, they fire you."  Nor will L.V. Myles allow the workers their legal right to organize.  At the mere hint of interest in a union, L.V. Myles immediately fires anyone they suspect is involved.

 We were informed by the workers that U.S. company representatives do indeed tour the plant on a routine basis, but they never speak with the workers.  Instead, they spend all their time with the local L.V. Myles management, inspecting for quality control.


 "When you enter the factories," the workers told us, "you enter miseryThe companies are sucking our blood.  Thirty-six gourdes a day [$2.22]) is too little;  you can't pay rent, you can't eat, you can't live on that."

Scenes from the Port au Prince Neighborhoods where Maquila Workers Live

 

Sugar Water Rather Than Milk:

 When we visited these workers in their one-room homes, it was always the same sad reality:  No one had running water.  People have to buy buckets of water with which to bath or wash clothes.  No one owned a radio, a TV or a bike.  There were never any toys.  Parents sewing Disney clothing all day could not afford to buy milk for their children, who are being raised on sugar water to blunt their hunger.  Parents could not afford medicines or vitamins for their children, just as they could not afford to buy eye glasses for themselves.  Families never, or very rarely, eat meat or chicken.  It is simply too expensive and out of their reach.  Families did not even earn enough to exchange Christmas gifts.  It was sadly ironic, but no one had ever seen a Disney movie, nor were they aware that they were sewing "Hunchback of Notre Dame" t-shirts in preparation for the movie's June 21 premier in the United States.

 Many parents working at the L.V. Myles plant want to go to night school, in the hope of learning new skills in order to find a better, higher paying job.  But they cannot afford this either.  It costs $30.77--nearly three weeks' wages--just to matriculate or register at night school, and another $9.23 per month in tuition, which is almost another week's wage.
 
Becoming An Indentured Servant:

 In actuality, to work in these Haitian factories sewing Disney children's clothing is to become--more than anything else--an indentured servant.  The 28 cent hourly wages paid in these plants do not even come close to allowing these workers and their families the opportunity to elevate themselves out of poverty and beyond surviving from hand to mouth.  These families must constantly live from debt to debt, existing solely on credit, while sinking deeper into debt and misery, with no way out.

 This is how it is for the workers.  We saw this on pay day as we waited out in front of the Sonapi Industrial Park.  Barely five minutes after leaving the L.V. Myles plant we watched the workers being confronted by their creditors--food vendors and others--who were seeking payment for their debts.  Even the higher paid workers were going home with only $3.08 in their pocket after a full week's work.  That leaves a family with a total of 44 cents a day to survive on through the week.

 One woman who worked at the L.V. Myles plant showed us her pay envelope.  Even with six-and-a-half hours of overtime, she still made only $14.32 for the week, which is 29 cents an hour.  After paying off her creditors, she held out her hand showing us what was left over.  It was 50 gourdes, or $3.08.  And she was considered one of the more fortunate.  Others were leaving with even less, going home after a week of work with $2.31 or even as low as $1.54 in their pockets.

 When we asked them what the workers would do now, how they would survive the next week, the answer was always the same.  They would go home and start borrowing right away.  And if they could not get credit in their own neighborhood, they would have to find a new one where they did not owe so much.  They would search.

 But buying food on credit is more expensive than paying cash.  And borrowing money is expensive.  A 15 to 30 day loan will cost between 25 and 50 percent interest.  The workers often pawn the little they own, like a small cooking pot which will bring in about $1.50.  Two good bed sheets, if they are in perfect condition, will fetch over $6.00 at the pawn shop.
 
 Every single worker was in debt and living on credit, holding on any way they can

 

Traveling to Work on Crowded "Taps Taps"

 

Surviving On 28 Cents An Hour:

 Is it possible to survive in Haiti earning 28 cents an hour?

 The maquila factories start operating at 7:30 a.m., and demand that the workers be there at least 10 to 15 minutes early.  Most factory employees get up at 5 a.m., when it is still pitch dark.  They literally squeeze themselves into overcrowded tap-taps, small pick-up trucks converted into buses, which crawl through the morning traffic jam to reach downtown.  To get to and from work costs about 37 cents a day.

 A cheap breakfast of spaghetti and coffee from food stands out in front of the factory will cost 62 cents.  A modest lunch of rice, peas and corn meal soaking in oil, with a cup of juice, will cost the same, another 62 cents.

 In total, the transportation and a small breakfast and lunch combined cost $1.61.  But the factory workers only earn $2.22 for the entire day.  So 73 percent of what they earn each day goes to just surviving.  At the end of an eight hour day, they have only 61 cents left over.

 Since the workers have no money left over from their last paycheck, the only food they can get must be purchased on credit from the food vendors.  The workers literally come to work each day to eat, but they eat only on credit.  If they did not come to work, they literally would not eat.

 Most workers try to, or would like to, leave $2.50 or $3.00 behind with their families when they leave for work in the morning, so that their families can eat.  But that is more than a day's wages.  Most families are left with only 31 cents to 62 cents a day to survive on.

 The average rent for the typical one room hut the workers and their families live in costs around $7.10 a week.  This means that someone sewing Disney shirts must work for more than three days a week just to pay the rent.


 THIS BILL FROM A LOCAL PHARMACY SHOWS THE FOLLOWING COSTS:
 
   Dysentery Medicine -   76 Gourdes, or $4.68
   Decongestant -   45 Gourdes, or $2.77
   Can of Powdered Milk -  50 Gourdes, or $3.08
   Malaria/Chloroquine Pills - 10 Gourdes, or 62 cents
   Cough Syrup -   25 Gourdes, or $1.54
   Diarrhea Medicine -  25 Gourdes, or $1.54

 

A bill from a local pharmacy

 If you have a child in school, that costs another $1.42 for tuition each week.  And since the parents--given their own lack of education--cannot help their children with their lessons, they have to pay for a tutor which costs an additional 71 cents a week.

 A small can of powdered milk, which if stretched could last a week for an infant, costs $3.08, or more than the mother earns in an entire day of work.  If a worker or her child are sick, a visit to the doctor costs between $3.08 and $4.62.  Chloroquine pills for malaria cost 62 cents.  For children suffering from diarrhea, a small bottle of medicine costs $1.54.  Medicine for dysentery, which is very common, costs $4.68--over two days wages--while a decongestant costs $2.77, and cough syrup costs $1.54.

 If you or your children need glasses, you might as well forget it.  Eye glasses cost $40, or three weeks wages!

 In Haiti, in the neighborhoods the workers live in, there is no running water so you must buy your water by the bucket.  To wash clothes, for example, two buckets of water and two bars of soap cost 37 cents, or more than you make in an hour.

No serious observer could reach any conclusion other than that the wages being paid to Haitian workers sewing Disney garments are sub-subsistence wages.  No one should use the term lightly, but these are definitely starvation wages.
 

The Classic Apparel Factory -- Again Workers Treated As Dirt:

 At the Classic Apparel factory, which is under contract with H.H. Cutler (the label reads "The H.H. Cutler Fun Factory"), hundreds of workers sew "Mickey's for Kids Stuff" and other children's clothing for Disney.

 Are conditions at Classic any different, any better, than at the N.S. Mart or L.V. Myles factories?

 At the end of April, when we met with the workers of Classic Apparel, they too were earning only 28 cents an hour.  A typical pay stub showed a weekly wage of $12.77, which breaks down to 28 cents per hour.  However, it appears that following the National Labor Committee's visit, wages have now been raised for most Classic workers to 35 cents an hour.  With this raise, the workers can earn $16.62 a week, or $864.24 a year.

 When we inquired about conditions at the Classic factory, worker after worker responded that "conditions were miserable."  They continued: "They treat us badly, like we are dirt, like we were dumb, with no respect.  You can't even speak to the bosses.  If you try, they fire you.  The supervisors are always screaming at us to work faster.  The pressure to make the quota is great.  If you even try to get up to use the bathroom they scream at you."

 The plant is very hot, we were told.  It is poorly lit and dusty.  The workers say the lint- filled dust gives them headaches.  Rats are everywhere.  The drinking water is right next to the toilet, which is filthy.  Women are getting infections from the water, so the company dumps in more chlorine.  Nor does the company pay sick days properly.

A TYPICAL PAY ENVELOPE FROM CLASSIC APPAREL.

This woman earned $24.55 for two weeks of work--including overtime.

A TYPICAL PAY ENVELOPE

 

Maquila Worker Neigborhoods

 

 

Maquila Workers Neighborhoods

 

 

Maquila Workers Eating on Credit from Food Stands in Front of Factory

 

 

Maquila Workers Eating on Credit from Food Stands in Front of Factory

 

 

 If Classic Apparel managers even suspect that there is interest in organizing a union, they immediately fire the workers they suspect are organizing.  It is the same in every factory in Haiti where Disney is producing.

 The production manager at Classic Apparel is John Paul Medina, who has been identified by the workers as a former member of the Fraph Death Squad, which killed thousands of civilians during the coup.  He has told the workers that if they ask for a raise, "the Americans will come and take the jobs to the Dominican Republic."  However, in June 1995, when President Aristide increased the minimum wage, Medina did not hesitate to increase the daily piece rate quota by 66 percent.  Instead of sewing 720 collars on Disney garments in eight hours, now the workers must complete 1,200 pieces in order to earn the minimum wage, or a little above.

 Similar to the other factories, sexual harassment is common.  Also, when U.S. representatives--presumably from H.H. Cutler--tour the plant to check on production quality, they never bother to speak with the workers.

 When we asked them how they were able to live on their wages, we heard the same sad story.  More often than not, they and their families went to bed hungry, having no money left for food that night.  They never eat meat; they cannot afford it.

 When asked, they told us that their children were "tired and weak" and often had "to go to school without food for lunch."  At the time of our visit, many of their children were sick, either with malaria or stomach infections.

 Like the rest of the workers we had spoken with, no one had ever heard of "Corporate Codes of Conduct" nor had Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs officials ever spoken with them.  They were alone to face the working conditions in which they were trapped.

 

marketplace

 

 

marketplace

 

 

Haitian Workers Make A Proposal To Disney:

 The workers at N.S. Mart, L.V. Myles, and Classic Apparel asked the National Labor Committee to carry a message back to company representatives at Walt Disney.  The Haitian workers sewing Disney clothing have several modest proposals they would like to discuss.  They are as follows:

 1. Primary among them is that Disney representatives come to Haiti to meet with the workers, to learn their story and see how they live.  These workers want to continue sewing Disney clothing; in fact, they would like more orders.  They are good at what they do and they work hard.  They only want to be treated with respect.

 2. They would like to work with Disney to clean up the factories, to guarantee respect for human and worker rights, including their legal right to organize.  These workers want the factories to be even more productive and efficient, but they also want their rights as workers restored.

 3. A very modest increase in wages from the current $.28 an hour to $.58 would allow the Disney workers and their families to survive.  They would remain poor, very poor, but they would no longer be trapped in misery.

 4. To guarantee respect for basic rights, local human rights organizations should have access to Disney's contractors' plants to monitor conditions.  Such an independent monitoring agreement has already been signed with the Gap.

Not That Sort Of A Trip:

 The National Labor Committee is aware that following our trip to Haiti, Disney representatives did in fact visit the N.S. Mart, L.V. Myles, Classic and Gilanex factories during the week of May 6.  Before that, H.H. Cutler Company officials were also in Haiti.

 However, these are not the type of meeting the workers are requesting.  The workers want a meeting with Disney representatives, but in the presence of the National Labor Committee and independent local human rights organizations, away from the factory and local management, and in a secure place.  The workers want to speak the truth, openly, frankly and without the threat of being fired or retaliated against for doing so.  Disney should provide their word that no harm will come to the workers for attending such a meeting and speaking truthfully.

Could The U.S. Companies Afford It?

 The workers' demands seem very reasonable, perhaps even overly modest, to the National Labor Committee.  The wage increase the workers are calling for would allow them to earn 58 cents an hour, which is only $4.62 a day, $25.38 a week and $1,320 a year.

 Would such a wage increase make Haiti less competitive?  Available research is clear in documenting that this would not be the case.  Through interviews with assembly line workers in Haiti, the National Labor Committee is documenting production schedules and labor costs.

At the L.V. Myles Factory

 For example, at the L.V. Myles plant in the Sonapi Industrial Park, 20 workers on a production line sew 1,000 pairs of purple Pocahontas pajamas in a single day.  The pajamas are then exported to the U.S. where they sell at Wal-Mart for $11.97.  L.V. Myles claims it is paying its workers 38 cents to 42 cents an hour (which, as we have already seen, is inflated since the vast majority of sewers in the plant are actually earning between 28 cents and 30 cents).  Even if we grant that the L.V. Myles Company is paying 42 cents an hour, this would mean that the 20 workers, each earning $3.32 a day (8 hours X $.42 = $3.32), collectively are earning only $66.40 for the day (20 X $3.32 = $66.40), while at the same time producing $11,970 worth of Pocahontas pajamas ($11.97 X 1,000 = $11,970).  In other words, the wages the Haitian workers earn amount to just .55 percent--about one-half of one percent--of the retail price the pajamas sell for at Wal-Mart!  In effect, the workers earn just 7 cents for each $11.97 pair of Pocahontas pajamas they sew.

 Now, if wages were raised to 58 cents an hour--as the workers are requesting--what would be the effect?

 At 58 cents an hour, or $4.64 for an eight hour day, the Haitian sewers would earn 9 cents--instead of 7 cents--for every $11.97 pair of Disney pajamas they made.  The Haitian sewers would still be earning less than 8/10 of one percent of the sales price of the garments.  If the workers earned 9 cents per pajama, this would still leave Walt Disney, L.V. Myles and Wal-Mart with over 99 percent--$11.88--of the $11.97 sales price.

At the Classic Apparel Factory

 At Classic Apparel, 40 workers in one production group sew 2,400 Disney Lion King children's outfits in an eight hour day.  Given the recent raise at Classic Apparel from 28 cents to 35 cents an hour, this means that 40 workers earning 35 cents an hour would collectively earn $110.77 a day ($.35 X 8 = $2.77 X 40 = $110.77) while producing $28,776 worth of Lion King outfits selling in the U.S. for $11.99 each (2,400 X $11.99 = $28,776).

 Right now, workers at Classic Apparel are earning only 5 cents for every $11.99 Disney garment they sew, their earnings amounting to only 4/10 of one percent of the sales of the Lion King garment.

 What would happen if the Haitian workers' modest demand for a 58 cents an hour wage was met?  Instead of 5 cents for each garment they sewed, they would earn 8 cents, or 6/10 of one percent of the $11.99 retail price, leaving the U.S. companies with well over 99 percent as their share.

 Not only is the 58 cents an hour wage--or higher--a desperately needed improvement for the people of Haiti, and one easily afforded by the U.S. companies, it is also good for the U.S. people.  No one earning 28 cents an hour, who cannot even afford to feed his or her family, will ever purchase anything made in the U.S.  You cannot trade with someone making 28 cents an hour.

 The Haitian worker is surely worth this modest wage increase.  In fact, every maquila operator in Haiti will tell you that Haitians are hard working and among the best workers to be found anywhere in the world.

 But the Haitian maquila workers are very isolated.  The Haitian government's Ministry of Social Affairs, which is responsible for factory inspections and implementation of Labor regulations, is not functioning.  It has no budget, no money, no presence.  Even the factory owners will confirm this.

 On the other hand, sadly, the Haitian workers are not receiving any assistance or support from the U.S. Embassy.  In a February 1996 cable to the State Department in Washington D.C. (see following page), the U.S. Embassy in Port-Au-Prince reports that in the maquila plants producing under contract for U.S. companies, the average pay is 46 cents an hour and not the 28 cents an hour (or even less) that the National Labor Committee documented.  The Embassy's cable notes that a "greater analysis of the Group's [The National Labor Committee] charges will follow."

 But how did the Embassy reach its conclusions?  The Embassy simply sent out a questionnaire to the maquila factory owners and waited for them to mail back their responses!  This, of course, is ridiculous in a country like Haiti, where the tiny elite which controls these factories has an unparalleled record for corruption, tax evasion, cheating on bills owed to the state electrical, phone and port agencies, and massive violations of the internat-ionally recognized rights of their employees.  All of this is done with total impunity.  In the case of the U.S. Embassy, its "research" is virtually useless, as well as harmful to the people of Haiti, and should be challenged until the record is set straight.

 Currently the "global economy" which links the U.S. and Haiti is pitting U.S. workers against Haitian workers in a bitter race to the bottom over who will accept the lowest wages and the most miserable working conditions.  Under these conditions, one of the only remaining avenues to break this destructive cycle, raise social standards and level the playing field is to involve the U.S. consumer.  Consumer pressure can move the whole system forward, as it did with the Gap, which became the first company to agree to open its contractors' plants to independent human rights monitors.

 Walt Disney's creations have shunned sexual exploitation, gratuitous violence, and the idolization of selfishness and greed, and in the process have helped shape the U.S. character for the better.  Disney could continue to well serve its commitment to family values by going to Haiti to meet with the workers and raising their wages to 58 cents an hour.

 For its part, the National Labor Committee will go anywhere at any time to meet with Disney representatives to discuss the proposals put forth by the Haitian workers.

 When we left Haiti, the people told us, "we are counting on you."  It is a responsibility the National Labor Committee takes very seriously.  We are committed to raising their needs with the U.S. people. Thank you.

        Sincerely,

        Charles Kernaghan
        Director

cc: Mr. Peter F. Nolan, Vice President, Assistant General Counsel
    Walt Disney Company
 
    Peter Levin

    Chuck Champlin, Director of Communications
    Disney Consumer Products

 

 

marketplace
 
Unclassified State Department Telegram

Unclassified State Departnment Telegram

 

 

 

 

 

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