Sometimes one has to eat youn ti kras kòbo – literal Creole translation of “a little bit of crow” — in this rushing world. Below, I try to rectify some mistakes in my post of October 24 on the Caracol park in northern Haiti.
One reason for today’s post is that a friend of mine who works in business in Haiti told me he felt I had been too harsh on Caracol – and I respect him, and wanted to give it some more thought. And upon reflection, I found my post to be a little, well, intemperate, which I do well, of course, and naturally! But usually without factual errors.
So here we go:
1. Richard Branson was at the opening of the Sae-A plant as a guest, not an investor. The northern outback of Haiti at the opening of a garment factory is an unlikely place to find Sir Richard, founder of Virgin everything and a towering billionaire, but my assumption is that he was there as a friend of Bill Clinton’s, who was an early supporter of getting Sae-A into Haiti, and who was also present to inaugurate the garment factory and the broader industrial park. Perhaps, also, Branson is thinking about adding a Haitian destination to his Virgin Limited Edition exclusive resorts. Anyway he had a brief look-see at the beaches of the north on the weekend preceding the Sae-A opening.
2. The land on which Sae-A’s factory sits was not “donated” to Sae-A, as reported in some publications, but was rather “allocated” by the Haitian government to the Haitian authority that deals with industrial plants. Matter of semantics, perhaps. In any case, Sae-A is to pay rent and utilities for the factory. However, the Haitian government and Inter-American Development Bank team that vets tenants for the park has a policy not to disclose rental fees, so I can’t tell you what they’ll be paying.
3. The housing site near the Caracol Park is to include a planned community for workers, with roads, electricity, water, schools and “recreation plots” envisioned. The community is to be constructed in order to avoid employees’ and potential employees’ building ad hoc shantytowns around the park.
4. No dock has thus far been built in the north; one is contemplated, but for the moment work has been halted in order to protect Haiti’s vulnerable coral reefs. My prediction: that delay won’t last long. Haiti’s erratically paved roads are an extremely inefficient way to transport goods.
5. Sae-A does not enjoy any special tax benefits; only those codified in Haitian law.
6. Sae-A still reportedly has four apparel factories in Guatemala and three in Nicaragua. It did, however, close down its “flagship factory “ in Guatemala last year, according to the New York Times, after repeated labor disputes and ugly allegations of worker abuse by Sae-A managers.
7. Although an industrial park in the north seems an aberrant response to the earthquake, it will no doubt generate both capital and consumer spending in the area. Its supporters argue that the Caracol Park will help to decentralize the country, and arguably lower the magnetic force of Port-au-Prince on Haiti’s destitute population. I wonder, though, how many people who crowd Port-au-Prince to this day – even after the earthquake there — will be attracted by a workers’ community at the side of an industrial park in the northern hinterlands, no matter the pay differential. They’ll probably go on hoping for a job to turn up in the capital, which, in spite of its maddening everyday chaos and the destruction of the earthquake, is nonetheless a real if idiosyncratic city.
8. Here’s the pay differential: Around 75 percent of Haitians live on less than $1.75 a day. Sae-A workers will make between $5 and $7 a day. But even those who enthusiastically support the Caracol Park and the Sae-A factory agree that the apparel industry in itself is not a real path out of poverty. The garment industry needs support and a position in a wider national economic plan in order to provide anything but an income barely above subsistence, if that — depending on the size of a worker’s family. Haiti does not have such an economic plan, as of now.
9. Sae-A paid out of its own pocket for those kimchi refrigerators.
I hope to be able to report further and more profoundly after my upcoming trip to Haiti, during which I will visit the Caracol Park and the Sae-A plant live and in person, and send dispatches home to the blog.