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In Haiti, people work for peanuts. Slave wages. Less than $5 per day, but they supply the U.S. with tons of affordable clothing from big-name brands like Levi’s, Hanes and Polo. Haiti’s big advantage, compared to Asia, is their proximity to us, and thousands of Haitians are employed in the textile industry in part because of that. When Haiti passed a wage raise from $.24 per hour to $.61 per hour, American companies were predictably outraged.

U.S. companies, especially the clothing manufacturers, outsource their manufacturing to places like Haiti specifically because they can get away with paying slave wages. They would only support a minimum wage increase to $.31 per hour, and decided to get the U.S. Department of State involved to try and pressure Haiti’s government to keep the wage raise down.

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This took place in 2011, and Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State. Our corporations were successful, and Haitians continued to work for worse slave wages than they otherwise would have, all so U.S. corporations could take home higher profits.

At the time, the U.S. Embassy said that the wage increase didn’t take economic realities into account, and that it was a move designed specifically to appeal to the unemployed and underpaid masses of Haiti. Imagine that. Imagine trying to help your people have a better life instead of catering to huge corporations at your people’s expense. The horror.

Here’s how much it would cost Hanes to give its Haitian workers a $2 per day raise ($2 per day is roughly what the wage increase would be):

“As of [2008] 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 [in 2008].”

They just simply cannot deal without that $1.6 million, to the point that they managed to get our government involved in the affairs of another government. It didn’t matter that Haitian families actually need $12.50 per day to make ends meet.

In 2012, everyone from Clinton herself, to celebrities like Ben Stiller and Sean Penn, gathered at the opening of a new industrial park in Haiti. In 2015, Hillary said this about it:

“We had learnt that supporting long-term prosperity in Haiti meant more than providing aid. So we shifted our assistance to investment to address some of the biggest challenges facing this country: creating jobs and sustainable economic growth.”

She promised jobs, but when people hear a promise of jobs, they generally assume those jobs will allow them to support themselves. The jobs we’ve created in Haiti do nothing of the sort. Some Haitians feel they can’t complain because any job is better than no job, but on the other hand, those same Haitians wish they were paid more.

This isn’t the first time our government’s gotten involved with another government over corporate interests. We’re beholden to our rich corporations. We apparently owe it to them to make sure other governments don’t eat into their profits by passing laws that protect workers, or do anything else that threaten profits. In 1953, we helped the U.K. overthrow Iran’s democratically-elected president over his nationalization of what would later become British Petroleum, or BP.

Under the guise of stopping communism, we worked with the U.K. to try and install a pro-western government (meaning, a government sympathetic to our business interests there). Iran points to this coup as the reason for their deep distrust of us, and really, who can blame them for that?

In 1954, we overthrew Guatemala’s democratically-elected president, again, under the guise of protecting the world, and our interests, from communism.

What was our real problem there? We were worried that their new president would turn land over to poorer members of its society and create a middle class. Oh, the sheer horror. Ordinarily we probably would have kept our noses out of that, however, the land in question was land that belonged to the United Fruit Company, a U.S.-based agriculture corporation. President Arbenz would have compensated them for their losses, but they weren’t having any of that. We got the idea that Arbenz was a secret communist from the United Fruit Company.

For the pursuit of American profit, Guatemala sat under the rule of military dictators for the next 30 years. They are just now emerging from all the shadows of that time.

What happened in Haiti isn’t as egregious, but it is just as insidious in its own way – the U.S. government interfered with a foreign, sovereign government for the benefit of rich American corporations. This particular instance happened under a Secretary of State who promised jobs, but probably didn’t let on that those jobs would pay next to zilch. Investing is good. It’s better than aid, but we’re half-assing it there, all in the name of profit.

 

Image by Marc Nozell. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

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