Dignity and fair wages in Haiti
Living wage jobs
In a quiet farming hamlet in the northern part of Haiti, farmers were forcibly removed from fertile land to make way for a new industrial park in 2012. They were poorly compensated for their land, making it nearly impossible to continue their agricultural livelihoods.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), financers of the Caracol Industrial Park, promised that the investment would yield some 65,000 jobs. To date roughly 5,000 jobs have been created. Workers earn $5-$7 per day and spend one-third on transportation and lunch costs alone.
The government of Haiti is aggressively pursuing a foreign investment strategy using the slogan, “Open for Business” to attract investors. They have honed in on extractive industries, tourism, and export industries such as garment manufacturing as the most lucrative sectors. The pitch to investors is predicated on cheap labor, supplied by thousands of Haitians who desperately need employment.
While foreign investment can be one component of Haiti’s development, this strategy is being pursued at the exclusion of all other options–including the exclusion of input from the Haitian population. The tragic irony is that even as “job creation” is lauded by international donors, many Haitians have lost their livelihoods.
In early March, representatives from our Haiti advocacy coalition in Washington, D.C. discussed these issues in a briefing on Capitol Hill. Speakers outlined key points for Congress to consider as they provide oversight for ongoing projects of USAID and other investors, such as:
- How can investors in each sector be held responsible to ensure that workers earn a living wage?
- With money flowing into Haiti and exports flowing out, why are more benefits not reaching the Haitians who need it most?
The speakers offered critical analysis of the reigning economic development model and included some recommendations for members of Congress:
- In order for job creation to spur equitable economic development, Haitians must have access to safe and dignified employment that enables workers to meet basic needs and support their families.
- Land is the cornerstone of any project. For a country that is food insecure and environmentally degraded, the primary concern must be how land is used.
- Farmers must not be forcibly displaced from their land. Farmers already displaced from land by development projects must be justly compensated. Government must support communities and local leaders in promoting land tenure and invest in sustainable agriculture.
As Christians, we uphold the principle of treating others the way we want to be treated, and “in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” We look not to our own interests “but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Just as we may advocate for living wage jobs with dignity in our own country, we should also encourage the creation of dignified work for our neighbors.
Charissa Zehr is Legislative Associate for International Affairs at the MCC U.S. Washington Office.