Wikileaks: U.S. Intervened To Keep Haiti Slave Wages Low On Behalf Of Hanes, Levi Strauss

I'll try to keep this simple: The Nation published a Wikileaks story which it then pulled to run Wednesday with the Haitian publication with which it partnered. But the Columbia Journalism Review picked it up anyway, because it's such an important story - namely, that it's apparently U.S. policy to further undercut wages in the Third World, not incidentally making it even less likely that manufacturing jobs ever return to the U.S..

The Nation didn't pull their other Wikileaks Haiti exposé (see video above), which recounts how the U.S., pressured by Exxon and Chevron, tried to interfere with an oil agreement between Haiti and Venezuela that would save Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, $100 million per year:

Two years ago, Haiti unanimously passed a law sharply raising its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour. That doesn’t sound like much (and it isn’t), but it was two and a half times the then-minimum of 24 cents an hour.

This infuriated American corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss that pay Haitians slave wages to sew their clothes. They said they would only fork over a seven-cent-an-hour increase, and they got the State Department involved. The U.S. ambassador put pressure on Haiti’s president, who duly carved out a $3 a day minimum wage for textile companies (the U.S. minimum wage, which itself is very low, works out to $58 a day).

The Nation:

Still the US Embassy wasn’t pleased. A deputy chief of mission, David E. Lindwall, said the $5 per day minimum “did not take economic reality into account” but was a populist measure aimed at appealing to “the unemployed and underpaid masses.”

Well, hey. Imagine Haitians doing things for their “unemployed and underpaid masses” rather than rich Yankee corporations. The outrage! No wonder we have 9.1 percent unemployment and 16 percent underemployment here while the folks who sent the economy in the tank are back making millions.

Let’s do a little math. Haiti has about 25,000 garment workers. If you paid each of them $2 a day more, it would cost their employers $50,000 per working day, or about $12.5 million a year.

Zooming in on specific companies helps clarify this even more. As of last year Hanes had 3,200 Haitians making t-shirts for it. Paying each of them two bucks a day more would cost it about $1.6 million a year. Hanesbrands Incorporated made $211 million on $4.3 billion in sales last year, and presumably it would pass on at least some of its higher labor costs to consumers.

CJR points out that Hanesbrands CEO Richard Noll, on the other hand, got a nice cushy $10 million compensation package last year.

And that five dollars a day that wasn't "economic reality" for the U.S. embassy representative? The Nation reports that a Haitian family of three (two kids) needed $12.50 a day in 2008 to make ends meet. So the U.S. is on the record in favor of poverty.


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