Another Canadian connection in Haiti: Clothes to die for

February 12, 2006
David Evans

Canada is the fourth largest exporter of clothes to the United States (1). Our trade with the U.S. in clothes is calculated at over ten billion dollars a year (2). Over the past two decades Canadian sales to the U.S. have increased steadily (3,4). However, the number of people employed in the trade has decreased (5). How can this be?

The answer is simple: Someone else does the work! Through the processes known to economists as “transshipments’ and “re-exports’ all the difficult labor is done for as little as 11 cents an hour. Then it is given a “Made in Canada’ label and sold to the U.S. markets for a handsome profit (6). This also has the added advantage to our business community of limiting a section of the Canadian workforce that has historically been very effective in promoting human rights, the labour movement and the political left in Canada (7).

Through various trade deals such as the Caribbean Basin Initiative and NAFTA, Canadian business can re-export the clothes largely manufactured by Haitian labour (8).  Haitians and others under these same trade deals have to open up their markets to our agricultural products (9). Being a developed industrial nation our food products are much cheaper than Haitian products, as they largely have only subsistence farming capability (10-12). While we have tractors and bio-engineering, they mostly have manual labour farm implements.

Over a third of our apparel and textile export is “re-export’, meaning it is not made by Canadian labour, even though it may bear a “Made in Canada’ label (13-16). The process has been described as “Neo-Imperialism’ and studies have shown that this arrangement restricts the ability of a society to develop their industry. It can even lead to the de-industrialization (17) and a negative rate of development such as in Haiti (18,19).

This de-industrialization process is neither unique to Haiti nor historically new (20-24). Haiti of course is unique in two aspects: the degree of the devastation and the fact that it is Canada business interests that have a deep responsibility in its creation.

Those who support this system and profit from it include all our major clothing retailers and manufacturers (25,26). Outsourcing the part of production where only labour is necessary is so widespread that it has become the standard practice for the industry (27,28). The process where the worker is reduced to nothing but the exchange value of his unskilled labour has largely been exported (29).

Units of production such as cloth (textiles) are manufactured and developed through a highly complex industrialized process. In this process educated and semi-educated workers controlling the process enjoy some human rights protections. They may even have the possibility of bargaining for better wages in a trade union (30). Although far from a humane production environment, it is imaginable that a person could survive under such conditions.

In Canada, the textile industry is the tenth largest employer and its workers are 75% women who receive low rates of pay and little if any job security (31). Under our present system of production this, however, is markedly better than the other sections of the industry where the semi-manufactured goods are transported. These places are called assembly or subassembly factories, although we most commonly and justly refer to them as sweatshops.

Units of production at this stage require some assembly before they can then be sold. Perhaps intricate sewing work has to be done that is both labour intensive and prone to debilitating injuries. The workers at this stage are essentially de-skilled. It is not considered necessary by the business interests that the worker is either educated or skilled. Often the learning takes place on the job where the worker observes others in the process before they themselves do any paid labour (32).

The high capital investments of automated production stay in the home country. Here in Canada they and their precious machines do not have to endure the risk of workers impoverished by the 11 cents an hour pay, brutalized by inhuman conditions, rising up in revolution. It is the oppression of labour that is exported, while both Capital and capitalist remain where they are well protected, far from danger. Here in perfect anonymity they can sip their lattes, read the newspaper, collect their dividends and never see the misery they inflict upon others for profit.

The main problem for Canadian business interests is how to continue their profitable way of life at the expense of the Haitian people. The Haitian people do not appear, by and large, to have any desire of continuing this situation, having twice elected by an overwhelming majority the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the party of which he was a leader, Fanmi Lavalas.

Haiti´s first democratically elected president had modest aims, such as increasing the minimum wage to approximately 20¢ an hour (33).  He believed that the democratic institutions of Haiti should be allowed to vote upon policy decisions such as privatization of government controlled resources like the water supply (34). These aims were commendable, although extremely modest.

The Haitian people had problems that ranged from a child mortality rate under the age of 5 of over 12%, unemployment that rose as high as 70%, and approximately 50% of the population not having access to safe drinking water (35). This situation had only gotten worse over the past two decades, thanks largely to the “re-export’ industry.

The corrupt dictatorships of the Duvalier family and the equally corrupt military rule of Cedras helped foreign interests turn Haiti into a sweat shop “re-export’ economy during the 1970s, 80s and early 90s (36). The promise of the Fanmi Lavalas was at least some hope for a better life than Haitians had known.

To provide for a better life and build its own industrial structure, Haiti would have to do as those who have industrialized before have done. They would have to protect key industries such as agriculture and infrastructure such as water (37,38). They would have to build a social system that would allow advanced industrial processes to develop and be maintained. Fundamental to this are healthcare and education.

The process in Haiti until now has been opposite to this development model. The loans needed to buy the capital-intensive (39) machines essential to industrialization came with strings attached. The loans that were given by organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF -- which are majority funded by Capital based in the U.S. -- came with the condition that key industries not be protected and that essential services and infrastructure be taken out of the democratic control of the government.

Of course countries such as Canada did not need IMF and World Bank loans to develop their industry. Western European and North American societies were able to buy their capital-intensive machines and industrialize from the methods, now traditional to our societies, of imperialism and enslavement (40).

British, French, American and Canadian business interests were able to accumulate massive profits created by over 300 years of enslaving Africans and forcing them and their descendents to work in the Caribbean´s plantation economies. Those profits went directly to the industrialization that gives such industrial societies as ours its competitive advantage over societies such as Haiti (41,42).

The virtues displayed in Aristide´s care for the orphans and poor of Haiti in his former career as a priest would, it was hoped by many Haitians, promote a society that cared for its people (43). The Fanmi Lavalas was essentially a coalition of groups that represented socially progressive political and religious elements of Haitian society.

The actions of a government in Haiti, such as the reform measures carried out by the Aristide government, do not often make front-page news in Canada. But to Canadian business interests, the issue of who governs Haiti and how Haiti is governed does not go un-noticed.

When the Canadian government declared that the dictatorship in Haiti of the military leader Cedras was intolerable, presumably because it allowed a rather profitable drug trade to continue, its navy joined in enforcing an economic embargo. Canadian business interests had the opposite reaction and increased their imports from Haiti (44). Whatever the Canadian Navy was blockading from 1994 to 1995, it appears not to have been an economic embargo on Canadian business interests, as imports increased between these years. It is estimated that 60 multinational corporations continued business in Haiti during this time regardless of the embargo (45).

When the popularly elected government of Aristide was overthrown in 2004 Canadian business interests increased their imports from Haiti. It became twice what it was before North American and European governments agitated against Aristide's government in 2002 (46). The Canadian government declared its support for democracy and human rights, even as its troops helped the success of a coup against Aristide. The effect has been the increased involvement of Canadian business interests in a country where human rights atrocities have increased (47).

The pattern is clear. When workers´ rights in Haiti are promoted, even timidly, Canadian businesses avoid Haiti. Two of the greatest Canadian political proponents of the coup that overthrew Aristide, Aileen Carroll and Pierre Pettigrew, also happened to be politicians elected in areas (South Central Ontario and Montreal) where business interests have highly benefited from the “re-export’ trade (48-52).

Pierre Pettigrew gave bold endorsements of the coup leaders. The Canadian financial support for the coup government by CIDA under Carroll´s leadership helped bolster the government established by the coup leaders (53). This was a government against the democratic rights of the Haitian people that directly benefited Canadian business interests. In Calgary, Carroll even received an award given to her by a representative of SNC-Lavalin for her efforts in helping to privatize the water supply in impoverished societies (54).

Pierre Pettigrew tried to maximize his previous support of “Trade Liberalization’ such as in Haiti to be made the head of the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS has been vocal in its support of the Gérard Latortue government established by the coup (55). Even this body once described by Che Guevara as a “suitable mask’ (56) for U.S. imperialism found Pettigrew a less than suitable candidate, choosing instead a more politically moderate politician for the top position (57).

With the help of Canadian political activists campaigning on behalf of the Haitian people, these two politicians were defeated during the last election (58). The present government has stated that it wishes to continue the work that these two promoted in Haiti. This is consistent with past history. Canadian Conservative governments have previously acted towards Haiti with no discernable difference from Liberal governments.

It was under the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney that the present shape of Canadian business interests in Haiti developed. In the mid-eighties Canadian manufacturing declined, partly thanks to the commitment of the Conservatives to the type of hemispheric free trade promoted by the United States government (59). Haitian society was forced to comply with similar trade agreements due to pressure from the World Bank and the IMF (60).

Unable to refuse the cheaper agricultural products such as Canada´s, and unable to compete in other industries, Haiti as an agricultural economy was left few choices but to accept the sweatshop employment provided by Canadian business interests.  As activists, we have no choice but to continue the work that has been started by the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN).

This network has, within a short period of time, built up groups dedicated to exposing Canada´s imperialist ambitions in Haiti. Jail time for some leading activists has not weakened the movement but rather made it bold. With recent victories over two most notable servants to Canadian business interests, Aileen Carroll and Pierre Pettigrew, we can hopefully expect that the movement will seek to establish itself as a permanent thorn in the side of Canadian corporations exploiting the peoples of the Caribbean.

Only through the efforts of people involved in groups like CHAN can we overcome the grotesque delusions about Canada´s political economy from which the majority of Canadians and many outside of Canada suffer (61). In survey after survey, Canada is perceived, by Canadians, as being a refuge of internationalism, where our foreign policy is full of the values of humanity expressing in our every sentiment solidarity with the poor of the world (62). Nothing could be further from the truth: We are the very mirror image of our ideals. In Haiti, we see the true nature of Canada´s engagement with the world outside. No longer merely the servile agents of capital (63), no longer the master´s lackey in the Caribbean (64), Canada´s business interests have now advanced to become the owners of the plantations.

Haiti is a society that produces some of the best handicrafts in the world and has become the strength of the Canadian garment industry. It is the home of a society that prides itself on liberty and independence. Haiti, perhaps more than any other society, has fought and paid dearly to attain the liberty and affluence we have taken for granted. Yet Haiti is listed on the United Nations Human Development Index as one of the most devastated societies (65).

How can this be? We can find the answer to that question in the pursuit of the interests of Capital in Canada. With our collective political action, we may seek to redress the gross injustice perpetrated in our name.

For more on Canada's relations with Haiti, past and present, read Part I and II of David Evans' three-part series.




(1) FWN Financial News, Dec 14, 2005. After Hong Kong, China and  Mexico Canada is the fourth largest textile exporter to the United States

(2), Industry Canada, Canadian Apparel (Figure 1 and 2)

(3) Ibid. Although slight declines can be seen after 2002 the data indicates over all that the production of Canadian textiles and apparel has seen a robust development since the early 90´s.

(4), Stretching or Shrinking? The Textile and Clothing Industries in Canada, “Canada´s exports of textiles and clothing south of the border grew from $1.0 billion in 1992 to a peak of around $5.2 billion in 2000, 2001 and 2002’.

(5)  Canadian Apparel, 12/12/2005. Trade shipments have increased while employment has decreased.

(6) Cyclical Implications Of The Rising Import Content In Exports, Canadian Economic Observer, 12/2002 (Figure 3)

(7) Confederation of National Trade Unions; Canadian Encyclopedia (2002)   01-01-2002

(8) Beat China on Cost; Canadian Business, 11/07/2005. “But it's not just inexpensive labour and advanced technology that have allowed Gildan to beat the Chinese on cost. Also important for the company has been a close reading of the mass of bilateral and regional trade agreements that exist the world over.’

(9), 2006. Economic Profile - Haiti “Trade Agreements and Canadian Trade with Haiti: Membership in trade agreements and other multilateral or trade agreements. Haiti market is ranked as one of the most free-market economy in the Western Hemisphere, with very low tariff schedule, no quantitative restrictions on trade except for health, environment and security concerns.’

(10) , Canada Agri-Food, KPMG Business Study 2004, CEO's Business Guide to World Business Costs. "Growing Your Agri-Food Profits: Canada's 4.7 Per Cent Cost Advantage"

(11) , Haiti Country Commercial Guide FY 2004, Industry Canada, 03/01/2005.

“Agriculture is characterized by:

- Low investment and maintenance

- Limited access to credit
- Poor management of irrigation systems
- Over-exploitation of land owing to population pressure
- Deforestation in an already fragile natural environment
- Lack of adaptive variety selection and research, and farming on small plots using primitive implements.
Approximately 700,000 small agricultural producers supply 60% of the food consumed in Haiti.’

(12), Haiti, 11/2005, “In this poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, 80% of the population lives in abject poverty, and natural disasters frequently sweep the nation. Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agriculture sector, which consists mainly of small-scale subsistence farming.’

(13) Cyclical Implications Of The Rising Import Content In Exports, Canadian Economic Observer, 12/2002

(14), Statistics Canada, December  2002

(15), on line database of Stats Canada and the U.S. Bureau of Statistics.

(16), The Import Intensity of Provincial Exports, June 2003. Here it is clear that Ontario´s exports have over a 50% import content.

(17) Upgrading in the Global Clothing Industry: Mavi Jeans and the Transformation of a Turkish Firm from Full-Package to.., Economic Geography, 7/1/2004. “Globalization truncates industrialization instead of deepening it, encourages simple assembly, prevents the industry from becoming a sustainable industrial base that could contribute to long-term economic development…’

(18) , Economic Profile - Haiti, 01/01/2006. Real Growth development for 2004 is estimated at minus 3.4.

(19), Country Profile Haiti, 04-02-2006.

(20) Globalization and the state: The political economy of global accumulation and its emerging mode of regulation; Science & Society   07-01-1998. As the state of affairs gets worse the situation can lead to an illicit drug export business. This in turn can lead to a profitable situation for foreign business as has been shown in a study completed regarding Columbia.

(21) Resource wars against native peoples in Columbia; Capitalism, Nature, Socialism   06-01-2003

(22) World poverty, pauperization, & capital accumulation; Amin, Samir, Monthly Review, 10-01-2003

(23), How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Walter Rodney, 1974

(24) Understanding Capitalism: Competition, Command, and Change, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. In history of the British Empire one can see the trend to de-industrialize the economies of India, China and Africa. Aspects of this are detailed in this work and the two references above.

(25), Transparency Report Card 2005, Maquila Solidarity Network.

(26) A Needle in a Haystack, Maquila Solidarity Network, 2000

(27) Now is the time to think about expanding overseas sourcing; World Trade   06-01-2000.

(28) Industrial Management & Technology: New Victories in the Supply-Chain Revolution Still looking for ways to tighten shipping, inventory, and even manufacturing costs at your company? Fortune, 10-30-2000

(29) The horrors of the industrial revolution are now a distant memory in our society as can be seen with the endless sterile renditions of Charles Dickens´ classic works. Where before one would be horrified by the description of real working class conditions now Hollywood actors such as Kelsey Grammer do song and dance routines which is considered light hearted entertainment about an era long gone and forgotten.

(30) Introduction: The Challenges of Globalization for Workers: Transnational and Transborder Issues; Aguirre, Social Justice   01-01-2004.  In practice organizing however is unlikely and difficult due to the extreme fragmentation of the industry and other reasons.

(31) Clothing Industries; Canadian Encyclopedia (2002)   01-01-2002

(32) Textile, Apparel, and Furnishings Occupations; Occupational Outlook Handbook 2002-2003, 09/01/2003

(33) HAITI; Kidnapped democracy; Did the US stage a coup in Haiti?; New Internationalist   04-30-2004

(34) Aristide in Exile, , July 15, 2005

(35) The Fold: A Troubled Economy; Newsday   01/02/2006

(36) The Review of Black Political Economy, Wntr 1981 v11 p203(13),  The assembly industries in Haiti: causes and effects, 1967-1973.

(37) The Rise and Fall of Economic Liberalism: The Making of the Economic Gulag. Monthly Review   05-01-1997

(38) Understanding Capitalism: Competition, Command, and Change, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2005

(39) “Capital Intensive’ can be usefully but not comprehensively described in simple terms as a lot of money.

(40) Africa: The 1884 scramble was for resources to develop Europe; New African   10-01-2005

(41), How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Walter Rodney, 1974

(42) How Africa Developed Europe And America; New African   10-01-2005

(43) Haiti Matters!; Monthly Review   09-01-2004                 

(44), on line database of Stats Canada and the U.S. Bureau of Statistics. (Figure 4)

(45) Skirting the embargo, Multinational Monitor, March 1994 v15 n3 p16(2). “Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Commerce reveal that more than 60 U.S. corporations are shipping a torrent of goods intended for assembly into Haiti, and then reimporting the assembled products back into the United States. Among the traded products are toys, fishing lures, cord, clay floor tiles, brooms, baseballs, softballs, pajamas, pants and T-shirts.’ (Figure 4)

(46) Ibid

(47), Crisis in Haiti, Amnesty International

(48), Canadian textile Industry

(49) Clothing Industries; Canadian Encyclopedia (2002)   01-01-2002


(51) Haiti politics; Guelph Tribune   11-18-2005.

(52) . . . but bad times continue to wear on apparel sector; Prescott shirt manufacturer closing and consolidating operations at city plant; Daily Mercury (Guelph, Ont.)   11-18-2005. The owner of a factory in Guelph laments his sadness at laying off 50 employees and blames it on trade agreements.  These are the same agreements that have profited business interests like him.

(53) , Canada´s commitment, 2/3/2006.In July 2004, Canada pledged over $180 million to Haiti over two years. Canada has already disbursed more than $130 million in reconstruction and development efforts, in line with the needs identified by the transition government’

(54), Canadian Awards for International Cooperation, April 22, 2004

(55)  Engineering the Overthrow of Democracy, August 26, 2004. This article by Anthony Fenton outlines very well the supporting role of the OAS.

(56) , Message to the Tricontinental

(57) Politics: Out Of Touch: Offside On Policy And Out Of Town When Crisis Hits, Pierre Pettigrew Is The 'Kamikaze' Foreign Minister; Maclean's   09-26-2005

(58) Voters should punish MPs for Haiti; Montreal Gazette   01/15/2006

(59) Politics & Policy: Canada's Gambit Prime Minister Mulroney dangles freer trade with the U.S.; Fortune   11-11-1985.

(60) HAITI; Kidnapped democracy; Did the US stage a coup in Haiti?; New Internationalist   04/30/2004

(61) In the story of when Gorbachev before he became leader of the Soviet Union saw a Canadian farmer. He thought why people in the Soviet Union did not live in such a way. He of course may not have realized several important facts. The food that farmer produced was probably forced on the market of a developing country against the wishes of its people.  Also the farmer probably was wearing clothes produced in conditions long since banished in the Soviet Union by that point.

(62) Miro Cernetig, "Tackle hunger before war on terror Poll", Toronto Star, 02/17/2005

(63), Serving Capital: A short history of Canada in the Caribbean, January 28, 2006

(64), Canada's Shame, Empires Profit: The Caribbean Slave Wars 1788-1807, December 21, 2005

(65),  Human Development Index, UNHDR, 2005


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