Since 2009, Better Work Haiti (BWH) has joined with workers, employers and government to improve working conditions and boost competitiveness of the garment industry.
The programme covers all garment factories and some other manufacturing factories in Haiti exporting to the US market. The garment industry is one of the largest employers in Haiti, creating jobs for approximately 40,000 people. In 2015, total export revenues from the textile and garment industry accounted for approximately 90% of national export earnings and 10% of national GDP.
In June 2015, the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015 (HOPE/HELP) was adopted by the United States (US) House of Representatives. It includes an extension of 10 years of Haiti’s preferential trade deal to the US for apparel products.
In November 2015 a general Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Better Work Haiti and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST) that institutionalises the collaboration to improve working conditions in the Haitian garment industry. Since 2015, a task force of 14 inspectors of the Ministry accompanies Better Work Enterprise Advisors during assessments and advisory visits to factories in Port-au-Prince, Caracol, and Ouanaminthe. These joint visits are building the capacity of the Ministries’ inspection department. BWH also collaborated with MAST on the development of a practical labour law guide to be published in five languages.
Better Work Haiti continues to implement training under a grant provided by GAP to support workplace cooperation and a grant by The Walt Disney Company for supervisory skills training and higher level management skills.
In 2016, BWH launched two new projects in partnership with Share Hope Foundation. One is an innovative clinic improvement program in which factories will be supported to better utilise resources. The second program targets a smaller group of beneficiaries that is widely marginalised: Seventy deaf-mute factory workers have received hearing aid devices through Share Hope in 2015 and will now benefit from speech therapy and sign language classes. Both projects are supported by Levi Strauss Foundation.
Researchers from Tufts University studied the impact of Better Work Haiti in the past five years, and found that significant progress has been made during this period, with potential for further improvements.
Here are some of their findings:
Better Work is playing an important role in promoting gender equality. Factories in Haiti are seeing a reduction in the gender pay gap due to their participation in the programme. While at the outset women were working longer hours for less pay than men, over the course of the programme the average number of weekly hours reported by women decreased and their total pay relative to men increased.
Factories participating in Better Work expand workers’ access to healthcare. 65% of workers in factories enrolled in Better Work Haiti are women, with the majority under the age of 30. Better Work has expanded access to pregnancy-related healthcare, a vital service for many young women working long hours in the garment sector. In Haiti, only six per cent of female workers reported having access to prenatal check-ups at the outset of the programme. This increased to 26% after five years.
Training line supervisors, particularly women, pays off in better working relationships and higher productivity. When trainees believe they can improve their skills, and they have support of their managers, Supervisory Skills Training in Haiti is demonstrated to lead to more balanced production lines, better workplace relations and higher productivity. Training female supervisors in particular was shown to result in a 22% increase in productivity.
Industrial manufacturing is an integral part of Haiti’s economy. At its peak in 1980 it employed more than 150,000 people in about 200 foreign companies. Garments were the main products manufactured in Haiti.
Following a boom in the apparel industry in Haiti in the period leading to the early 1980s, and the subsequent decline of the sector since the mid-1980s, the industry has struggled with natural disasters, political instability and competition from Asia in its effort to bring investment and jobs back to the country.
Even before the 2010 earthquake, Haiti was reported to be the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80% of the population living below the poverty line and 54% in extreme poverty. Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, making them vulnerable to the natural disasters to which the country is prone. The apparel industry has been identified as a potential lifeline for Haitian workers.
The HOPE and HELP legislative acts passed by US Congress in the last decade, which enable the Haitian textile and garment industry to benefit from customs exemptions, have succeeded in creating interest from American buyers to source from Haiti, increasing production and creating domestic jobs. The combination of increased duty-free access to the US market and Haiti’s ample supply of young workers helped ensure that by 2015, Haiti has become the 18th-largest apparel supplier to the United States. The total export volume of apparel products from Haiti to the US in 2015 was US$ 895 million with approximately half of these exports being shipped under the trade preferences granted under the HOPE II legislation. The apparel sector now accounts for three-quarters of Haitian exports and nearly one-tenth of GDP.
Currently, about more than 53,000 people are employed in Haiti’s apparel sector. With a new industrial park in the north of the country (CARACOL) – which started operations in 2012 – and further growth of the sector in other regions, an increase of the workforce to 60,000 workers is envisaged by 2020.