OUANAMINTHE, Haiti, 2 June 2022 – The Better Work Haiti Labour Roundtable Conference concluded with a strong commitment from industry stakeholders to see through the recovery of the garment sector and set ambitious goals for the next phase of development.
On May 24 and 25, stakeholders from the governments of Haiti and the United States, global brands, manufacturers, worker unions, and the ILO and IFC gathered for the first time in two years. At the CODEVI Industrial Park, they discussed the extreme challenges that have affected the Haitian garment industry’s health and workforce: the COVID-19 pandemic, socio-political instability, and labour strikes – and they shared a roadmap for the future. The billion-dollar industry accounts for 83% of export revenue and employs 55,000 Haitian workers, many of whom have reported food insecurity and personal safety concerns over the last two years. One of the event’s main objectives was to jointly define the pillars of a short and long-term development plan to face challenges that obstruct the sector’s progress.
“This conference should allow us to obtain an action plan to improve the sustainability of social dialogue in the medium and long-term, for an industry that contributes decisively to the creation of jobs and is fundamental for the economic development of Haiti,” said Elena Montobbio, ILO Latin-America Regional Director.
Discussions centered on the recovery of the industry; maintaining manufacturing jobs that have been boosted by the extension of the Haitian Hemisphere Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) and the Haitian Economic Lift Program (HELP) Acts; improving conditions for a vulnerable workforce affected by financial insecurity; strengthening institutions of social dialogue and freedom of association; and the outlook for sustainable improvement of the sector. The United States Department of Labor (USDOL) has been key in supporting Haiti in implementing the various aspects of the HOPE and HOPE II Legislation.
“The HOPE legislation establishes particular requirements for Haiti that include rules to monitor performance and help beneficiaries to understand, comply and take full advantage. This conference initiative led by Better Work is one of the key components of the HOPE law to bringing stakeholders together to have a productive dialogue,” said Crispin Rigby, USDOL.
The Minister of Economy and Finance (MEF) Patrick Boisvert stressed the importance of interventions to better support public-private dialogue around the challenges that affect the sector’s development. Boisvert said the MEF encourages strengthening dialogue platforms to make them effective instruments in implementing public policies regulating the garment and textile sector.
“These exchanges should contribute to a better understanding of the issues and guide decisions to pave the way towards a revival of exports, based on more rewarding production, likely to improve the well-being of workers while protecting the competitiveness of the sector,” said Boisvert.
The short-term objective is to restore economic growth after three consecutive years of contraction of the national GDP. The setting at CODEVI also signified important growth – it’s a worksite that has now renewed a five-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) three times. Likewise, 75% of factories in Haiti have implemented bipartite committees.
“At CODEVI, similarly to other investors, we envision future expansion doubling and even tripling our capacities in the short and long term. However, we need fair and clear labor laws; we need to limit the socio-political instability on our operations to warrant the continuity of the benefits of the HOPE Legislation,” said Joseph Blumberg, a Managing Director at CODEVI.
Better Work Haiti Director Claudine Francois emphasized increased collaboration with stakeholders, in particular the Government of Haiti’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour (MAST), and how this partnership has been strengthened by the circumstances of the pandemic. During the last two years, while Better Work has had limited factory access, the programme has supported MAST to create a task force of inspectors and trainers, and now MAST inspectors are passing on this knowledge to their colleagues. This ensures better sustainability of Better Work methodology and results and provides an example of collaboration that could be replicated.
“Stakeholders’ commitment to leading and maintaining a self-driving improvement culture creates robust and sustainable progress,” said Claudine. “It’s the right thing to do, benefiting all.”
Stakeholders signed a joint “Call to Action” statement outlining priorities for the role of both unions and employers and laying out the financial impacts and immediate needs of both workers and employers in the pandemic recovery period. The resolutions adopted at this conference will follow the priorities that stakeholders set out, including achieving a higher level of factory compliance to become a more competitive sourcing country and attract more buyers; creating more decent jobs across several industrial parks; introducing a range of social services, and engaging closely with partners for pandemic recovery and sustainable development.