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Pascrell, Sewell, Blumenauer Investigate US Company Supplier Abuses of Haitian Workers – InsiderNJ

Pascrell, Sewell, Blumenauer Investigate US Company Supplier Abuses of Haitian Workers
Amazon, Disney, Target, Walmart among 62 corporations questioned on factory protections for island nation workers
 
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, Terri Sewell (D-AL-07), and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-03), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Trade led 12 House colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee in asking the heads of 62 American companies importing garments from Haiti for information on their protections in place for workers employed by their companies and suppliers. Protection of Haitian workers has taken on added urgency as the island nation continues to recover and rebuild from natural disasters.
 
The letter is signed by Reps. Pascrell, Blumenauer, Sewell, Mike Thompson (D-CA-05), John Larson (D-CT-01), Linda Sanchez (D-CA-38), Brian Higgins (D-NY-26), Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01), Judy Chu (D-CA-27), Gwen Moore (D-WI-04), Don Beyer (D-VA-08), Dwight Evans (D-PA-03), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-20), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA-34), and Stacy Plaskett (D-VI).
 
“Today, we write you as supporters of United States trade programs with Haiti concerning documented reports of workers in the Haitian garment industry being denied health care services where employers failed to make full and timely health insurance payments on behalf of employees.  We write to you because your companies benefit from those trade programs and rely on Haitian employers and garment workers to create your products, and thus, you have a vested interest in and unique opportunity to help improve and strengthen U.S.-Haiti garment supply chains,” the members write the 62 garment companies.
 
Independent reports have revealed that 84 percent of factories have failed to comply with health insurance and social security contribution requirements, including the requirement to send deductions from employee wages to the Haitian respective agencies between October 2019 and September 2020, as required by Haitian law.
 
The Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade received testimony on September 10, 2020, that such practices in the Haitian garment industry are “particularly egregious.” According to labor union advocates, at least two workers died in 2020 after they were denied emergency medical care they should have been entitled to because their employers had previously deducted health insurance contributions from their individual earnings.
 
Chief Executive Officers from the following companies received the members’ letter: Abercrombie & Fitch, Amazon, Ariat, Augusta Sportswear, Banding Holdings, Blitz Apparel, C-Life Group, Calhoun Sportswear, Calvin Klein, Careismatic, Carters, Casper, Champro, Cintas Corp, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Disney, Elite Sportswear, Fabletics, Fabrik Apparel, Fanatics Apparel, Fast Retailing, Fishman & Tobin, Freeze, Fruit of the Loom, Gap, Gildan Activewear, Global Brands Group (GBG), GOEX, Hanes, HOT TOPIC, ICAT DE CV, Jockey, Just Play, Kazoo, Kohl’s, Landau Uniforms, Li & Fung, Li & Fung LF Americas, Lululemon, Mattel, New Balance, Next Level Apparel/YS Garments, Nordstrom, Peace Textile America, PINNACLE, Propper International, PVH Corp., Recover Brands, Reebok, Reed Manufacturing Company, Robinson Manufacturing Company, SanMar Corp, Serta Simmons Bedding, Superior Group of Companies, Target, The Children’s Place, Under Armour, Uniform Advantage, Val D’or Apparel, VF Corporation and The North Face, Walmart, and Zorrel International.
 
The text of the members’ letters are provided below.
 
 
November 5, 2021
 
 
Dear [corporation],
 
We are deeply disheartened by the acute humanitarian crisis and recent tragedies that have fallen upon Haiti in recent months.  Between the ongoing political turmoil and the recent earthquake, we hope for full recovery and healing for the people directly affected.  Historic ties that bond the United States and Haiti are the foundation of our committee’s commitment to aid the Haitian people.  As a result, we will continue to support Haitians as they work to rebuild and recover.  Our trade engagement with Haiti seeks to promote Haiti’s inclusive and equitable economic development, and also address transnational economic practices that may undermine or hinder Haiti’s progress, including recent supply chain practices that predated the country’s most recent adversities.
 
Today, we write you as supporters of United States trade programs with Haiti concerning documented reports of workers in the Haitian garment industry being denied health care services where employers failed to make full and timely health insurance payments on behalf of employees.  We write to you because your companies benefit from those trade programs and rely on Haitian employers and garment workers to create your products, and thus, you have a vested interest in and unique opportunity to help improve and strengthen U.S.-Haiti garment supply chains.  As you know, U.S. trade policies have increasingly prioritized collaboration across supply chains to improve labor standards.[1]
 
Independent reports have revealed that 84 percent of factories have failed to comply with health insurance and social security contribution requirements, including the requirement to send deductions from employee wages to the Haitian respective agencies between October 2019 and September 2020, as required by Haitian law.[2]  The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade received testimony on September 10, 2020, that such practices in the Haitian garment industry are “particularly egregious.”[3]
 
According to labor union advocates, at least two workers died in 2020 after they were denied emergency medical care they should have been entitled to because their employers had previously deducted health insurance contributions from their individual earnings.[4]  One worker, Sandra René, a 30-year-old woman, more than six months pregnant with her first child, was denied treatment because the employer failed to make proper payments to the government, despite her employer deducting the employee portion for health insurance contributions from her wages during her 9 years of prior employment.  Reportedly, unable to afford the more than USD $600 cost of care that was due in full prior to required treatment, Sandra and her unborn child died days later.[5]  Another worker, Liunel Pierre, reportedly died after he was denied critical dialysis treatment for similar accounting reasons.[6] Since workers in Haiti already face exposure to COVID-19 and security threats due to civil unrest, increased crime, and political instability, access to earned benefits should be the least of their worries.
 
These kinds of reported employer practices undermine our shared efforts to promote the economic and public welfare of working people in Haiti and in the United States through fair business transactions, foreign investments, and policymaking.  To help address these issues we respectfully request your responses to the questions below by December 1, 2021:
 
 
We recognize individual factories are responsible for complying with the laws and upholding labor agreements.  However, your leadership and attention to this matter within your supply chain will help promote transparency and respect for the rule of law across the sector.  It is imperative that we work together to remedy any labor violations and ensure that factories are complying in the future.  Your assistance is critical to that endeavor.
 
We appreciate your attention to this matter and your continued investment in the Haitian people and their economy.  We look forward to receiving a response to our inquiry by December 1, 2021.
 
Sincerely,
 
###
 
[1] For example, the 2008 HOPE II legislation created the new Technical Assistance Improvement and Compliance Needs Assessment and Remediation (TAICNAR) program, also known as the International Labor Organization’s Better Work Haiti (BWH) program, to engage Haitian producers, workers, and U.S. importers to help meet core ILO labor standards, Haitian labor laws, and acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health.  HOPE II also requires participation in the BWH program in order for importer firms to access the program’s tariff benefits.
[2] ILO BWH has reported high rates of factory failure to comply with required health care and social security payments over the lats decade.  See https://www.solidaritycenter.org/haiti-garment-workers-negotiate-landmark-health-payment/ and ILO Better Work Haiti Annual and Biannual Compliance Synthesis Reports at www.betterwork.org/bwh-resources-pubs/.
[3] Testimony of Lauren L. Stewart, Americas Regional Program Director at the Solidarity Center, Subcommittee on Trade of the Committee on Ways and Means, September 10, 2020.
[4] The Failure of Factories in Haiti to Pay Legally Required Health Benefits, the Related Deaths of Two Workers at Facilities Making Collegiate Apparel, and the Status of Remedial Action, Worker Rights Consortium, June 17, 2021, https://www.workersrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/WRC-Report-on-Palm-and-SISA_June-2021.pdf
[5] The cost of care was equivalent to 140 days of work at the minimum wage rate. Most garment workers do not have private insurance and must rely on public health services.
[6] http://www.industriall-union.org/haitis-garment-workers-fighting-for-their-livelihood
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