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Green Is The New Black

What’s happening with the garment workers protests in Haiti?

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green is the new black fashion revolution

On February 17, thousands of garment workers in Haiti took to the streets of Port-au-Prince to protest for better pay and working conditions. This followed weeks of similar demonstrations at companies that export to clothing retailers in the US. 

Garment workers led protests calling for an end to exploitative working conditions and a rise in minimum wage. In the face of rising inflation in the country, they demanded a raise in daily wage from 500 gourdes ($5) to 1500 gourdes ($15) a day — the bare minimum for a livable wage. The protests continued even when they were met with police violence, with several reported cases of injuries. 

“With 500 gourdes per day, without any government subsidies, we cannot meet our needs while the price of basic goods, transport costs have increased,” Dominique St Eloi, coordinator for the National Union of Haitian Workers told Reuters

Shockingly, the minimum wage hasn’t been increased for the past three years. In the past, Haitian officials had argued against increasing wages for fear of their garment industries becoming less competitive than neighbouring countries like the Dominican Republic. 

Haiti has been a major apparel manufacturing centre for decades. While one reason is its proximity to the US, the other is an abundance of low-cost labour. This “cheap” labour comes from the exploitation of garment workers, who are grossly underpaid and made to work in appalling conditions. Why? So they can keep filling the deep pockets of multi-million dollar international behemoths like Walmart and Target. 

An insufficient response

In response to the garment workers protest, the Haitian government hiked the minimum wage by up to 54%. This hike is on a sliding scale that varies by economic activity, according to a series of tweets by the office of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. 

Now, where do garment workers fall on this scale? Employees in the clothing manufacturing sector, specifically those who export garments to retailers in the US, were granted a 37% pay hike. And while 37% may not sound too bad, the reality is that this brings their daily wage to just under $7.50 a day — a far cry from the $15/day that the union leaders had demanded. 

So, while it’s a start, we’re nowhere near the finish line just yet.  

The larger picture

The struggle of garment workers is not a new one, and the Haiti garment worker protests are definitely not an isolated incident. These protests are part of a much larger picture. 

We’re approaching the nine-year anniversary of the deadliest garment industry disaster the world has ever witnessed: Rana Plaza. 

Almost nine years ago, an eight-storey building collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing over a thousand people. These were garment workers making clothes for major international fashion labels like Zara, Primark, and Mango. They were forced to work in an unstable building and had in fact been anxious about it collapsing for weeks before the incident took place. 

The episode sparked major outrage and ignited a severely needed movement in the fashion industry — the Fashion Revolution, a fight to protect the rights of garment workers. From Bangladesh to Myanmar, Cambodia, India, Pakistan and now Haiti, the movement is making waves around the world. Campaigns like #PayUp and #WhoMadeMyClothes flooded social media and were instrumental in spreading awareness about the issue. 

 

GITNB fashion revolution garment workers

Image: via Fashion Revolution | Image Description: A line of women in a factory holding posters that have Fashion Revolution’s #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign on them

How can we help?

There are a number of incredible organizations and activists (like Kalpona Akter and Aditi Mayer) around the world fighting for better working conditions and pay for garment workers. If you’re interested in learning more or are looking for ways to help and places to donate to, here is a (non-comprehensive) list of great resources to check out:

Awaj Foundation: A grassroots labour rights NGO based in Dhaka, Bangladesh that amplifies workers’ voices for decent working conditions in the apparel supply chain.

Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS): Another organization based in Bangladesh that advocates for improving working conditions and workers’ rights in the country.

Center for Sustainable Fashion: CSF is a University of the Arts London research centre based at the London College of Fashion, that challenges the fashion status quo through education, knowledge exchange, research, and policy and advocacy work.

Clean Clothes Campaign: Founded in the Netherlands, Clean Clothes Campaign is now a global network of over 235 organisations operating in over 45 countries. It amplifies voices in the garment and sportswear industries, connecting worker organizations, grassroots unions, and women’s organisations to labour rights organisations, CSOs, and activists.

Fair Wear Foundation: Fair Wear Foundation works with brands that are committed to finding a fairer way to make clothes by engaging directly with factories, trade unions, NGOs, and governments.

Fashion Revolution: The world’s largest fashion activism movement which mobilises citizens, brands and policymakers through research, education and advocacy. Fashion Revolution was founded in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013.

Garment Worker Center: Garment Worker Center is a worker rights organization leading an anti-sweatshop movement to improve conditions for tens of thousands of Los Angeles garment workers.

Labour Behind the Label: A UK campaign group that focuses exclusively on labour rights in the global garment industry. Labour Behind the Label represents the Clean Clothes Campaign in the UK.

PayUp Fashion: A global movement holding brands accountable and building a fairer future for garment workers in 7 Actions.

Pay Your Workers: A global coalition of trade unions and labour rights organisations that have joined together in a campaign to demand immediate relief for garment workers and apparel industry reform.

Re/make: A non-profit working at the intersection of labour rights and climate justice. Re/make makes sustainability accessible and inclusive through education, advocacy, and brand accountability through transparency.

Remember Who Made Them: A six-part podcast series, digital campaign and fundraiser that aims to help energise a new solidarity economy in fashion.

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO): A global network dedicated to improving the working conditions of the working poor – especially women – in the informal economy. It strives for equal economic opportunities, rights, protection and voice for all workers.

Worker Rights Consortium: An independent labour rights monitoring organization that investigates working conditions in factories around the globe. Its purpose is to document and combat sweatshop conditions, identify and expose the practices of global brands and retailers that perpetuate labour rights abuses, and protect the rights of workers who make apparel and other products.

Featured image: via Fashion Revolution | Image Description: Students at SoFa Design Institute, Phillippines

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Jyotika is a writer based in New Delhi. She writes about sustainable living and eco-friendly brands, covering fashion, food, travel, and wellness. Previously, she was the fashion manager at her family's bespoke fashion business, where in addition to her other responsibilities she worked on improving textile sourcing from local artisans to encourage grassroots production, as well as conducting sustainability workshops with employees regarding the eco-friendly disposal of fashion materials.

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