Haiti: Workers abused at uniform-making factory

Submitted by Anon on 9 December, 2003 - 2:29

By Labour Behind the Label

"They lock the gates on us and sometimes put security guards out in front with rifles to prevent us from leaving," said Jacqueline, as she described the method her employer uses to force workers to work over 10 hours a day without compensation. "The supervisors would yell and curse at us to finish our quota. My daily quota is sewing 90 dozen zippers on pants for 80 gourds [$2 US]."
Jacqueline works for a Cintas subcontractor, Haitian American Apparel. She estimates that she is just one of 1,500 workers who make uniforms for Cintas, and whose daily reality is working in conditions that are in severe violation of Haitian Labour Codes and International Labour Standards, as well as Cintas' own Code of Conduct.

Jacqueline, a 42-year-old mother of four, lives in a one room shack in Cite Soleil, one of the most impoverished and dangerous urban slums of Port-au-Prince - no running water, sewage, or electricity. "I begin work at 6:30am and normally finish my quota by 5pm," she began. "The factory gets so hot it is like working in fire. Inside the air is so hot and full of dust that I can't breathe, so I would put my handkerchief around my nose and continue working," she said.

Patrick, a 26-year-old worker said, "The heat and dust and noise and the pace of work become so overwhelming, workers just faint at their machines. I don't know if it's out of exhaustion, heat, or dehydration. All the supervisors do is throw water on them until the worker gets up and then the supervisors tell them to get back to work."

The factory pays less than the legal minimum of $0.22 per hour and, the cost of living in Haiti is three times the legal minimum wage.

Cintas is the largest uniform rental provider in North America and has enjoyed 34 years of consecutive growth. Sales in 2002 were U.S. $2.27 billion, and profits were $234 million.

Under Cintas' Code of Conduct, Cintas has a responsibility to ensure that labour rights are respected in their subcontracted facilities.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Cintas for over 100 health and safety violations.

US university students are now taking action to get their colleges to stop doing business with Cintas until Cintas respects workers' rights.

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