WikiLeaks public cables have showed how the U.S. Embassy in Haiti worked closely with factory owners contracted by Levi’s, Hanes and Fruit of the Loom to block an increase to the minimum wage for Haitian workers.
In 2009, the minimum wage was $1.75 per day. In June 2009, responding to workers’ pressure, a parliamentary bill proposed to raise it to $5 per day. Factory owners opposed it saying they would only pay $2.50 “to make T-shirts, bras and underwear for US clothing giants like Dockers and Nautica”. Backed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Embassy, they urged then Haitian President René Préval to intervene.
The Haiti cables reveal how closely the US Embassy monitored widespread pro-wage increase demonstrations and the political impact of the minimum wage battle. UN troops were called in to quell workers and students protests, sparking further demands for the end of the UN military occupation of Haiti.
Because of these fierce demonstrations, sweatshop owners and Washington were unable to keep the minimum wage as low as they had wanted to for long.
In August 2009, President Preval negotiated a deal with Parliament to have two minimum wages: $3.13/day for textile workers and $5/day for other workers. But Parliament also adopted a progressive increase over three years so in October 2012 textile workers minimum wage finally went up to $5/day ($6.25 for other sectors).
“200 Gourdes ($5) right now!”