Thursday, February 25, 2010

So, who's really made a "deal with the Devil" in impoverish, oppressed Haiti?

Shortly after the terrible Haitian earthquake, TV evangelist Pat Robertson declared that Haiti "had made a deal with the Devil."  To read my post regarding his absurd commentary go here

Earlier this week I discovered in an AP report published in The Dallas Morning News (Monday, February 22, 2010) that, in fact, a deal has been struck with the Devil in Haiti.   Trouble is Rev. Robertson, the Haitian people stand in the role of victims of the deal rather than partners.

Consider the facts of the Haitian economy: 

"Jordanie Pinquie Rebecca leans forward and guides a piece of suit-jacket wool and its silky lining into a sewing machine, where they're bound together to be hemmed.

If she does this for eight hours, she will earn $3.09.  Her boss will ship the pinstriped suit she helped make to the United States, tariff-free.  There a shopper will buy it from Jos. A. Bank Clothiers for $550."

Political leaders and economists argue today that the garment assembly industry could be the way out of extreme poverty for the beleagured island nation.  At the same time, everyone agrees that wages in Haiti in this sector and all others are far, far below a level that could lift anyone from poverty.  At the same time, unemployment in Haiti before the earthquake stood somewhere between 60 and 80%--so extreme as to defy careful or accurate measures. 

Welcome to the reality of unchecked capitalism in which markets function as the new agents of colonialism and imposed, systemic poverty for the benefit of the non-poor nations who masquerade as legitimate trading partners. 

So, who made "a deal with the Devil"? 

I'm thinking it was not people like Jordanie Pinquie Rebecca and her family.

No, the deal's much closer to home. 

You can read about it on the clothing labels in my overly-stuffed clothes closet.

You can find it described in the annual shareholders' reports that direct our eyes only toward the bottom line and away from the misery of those who support the system that pays us rich profits and dividends beyond anything fair, just or reasonable. 

I find these words from James 5:1-6 particularly indicting (forgive my slight edits):

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who [made your clothes and] mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters [and the tailors] have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.


Chris Waluk said...

I agree with the spirit of your post, but I'm not understanding what exactly is the "deal with the Devil".

First of all, I hate to qualify Pat Robertson's statement, but Pat referred to a myth created by the French in order to explain how they were ousted by the Haitians. The idea being that devil gave them their independence, but has since made their lives hell. I don't think there's any reason to think any of this is true, but your other post on Pat's comments didn't explain any of this. I think Pat is greatly disillusioned in the premise of his belief, but I actually do think he is carrying out sound logic from that point on (if that makes any sense).

In this post, I'm not sure what the parallel is. Is it the consumer making a deal with the devil or the clothing maker? I'm just not clear on what you're implying. I don't think anyone needs to point at the devil for any of this, I just think that Capitalism by nature has a way of exploiting the poor.

What bothers me is that I've yet to find a plan that I believe in that will pull countries like Haiti out of poverty. If there's 80% poverty there, than there's bound to be companies who will move to Haiti in order to save money on labor, and the Haitians will welcome this move so they can survive. And in all honesty, the only thing worse than Jos. A. Bank exploiting their workers in Haiti would be Jos. A. Bank leaving Haiti altogether. The real problem is not that Jos. A. Bank is paying their workers so little, but that people in Haiti are willing to work for such little money in the first place. Foreign companies did not create the problem there, nor do I really believe that they are making things worse.

As a consumer though, when I read that passage from James, I become very concerned with where my money is going. Maybe with advancing technology we'll be able to buy things more directly from the people who produce them.

The real problem with Haiti is that they were never designed to live on their own. Even Gandhi will admit that there are big advantages to living under a colonial system in an underdeveloped country. If Haiti had been able to first grow it's economy under fair colonialism, then there would have been structures in place for them to succeed independently.

TwoCents said...

I agree with you both.

1. $3 a day is not a fair wage.
2. The Book of James is very indicting on this point.
3. This result is inherent in our current economic/trading system.
4. Despite being taken advantage of, Haiti is better off with Jos. A. Banks there than without.
5. The root problem is that Haitians are so poor they will work for $3 a day.

... but now what? It all just looks depressingly insoluble.

c hand said...

What should Obama do?

c hand said...

What should Obama do?

Dean Smith said...

There are none so blind as those that will not see.

Jerry said...

Larry, thanks for your post. This is a very troubling subject and one for which I do not have an answer. Clearly, Haiti needs jobs, and as Kristof (sp) said in the New York Times a few weeks ago, garment factories are one of the easiest ways to pull a poor country out of poverty; he was encouraging US companies to start more garment factories in Haiti.
Now, it seems clearly obvious that less than $4.00 per day is way too little to pay an employee anywhere for 8 hours of labor. So, without a doubt this level of pay is unacceptable. That being said, then we must turn ourselves to another issue, that being regarding basic business principles. Clearly, business need a mutually beneficial situation in order to stay in business--that is, they must be able to turn a profit. Therefore, if the cost of materials or labor is such that they cannot turn a profit, then they go out of business and everyone loses. On the other hand, excessively low wages and excessively high profits may be good "business" but is not ethical or moral. So, where is the balance?
I do not know how much a company could afford to pay an employee in Haiti and still turn a profit, but I am assuming it would be far above <$4 a day. I do know that there have been interventions by the US Govt regarding wages being paid oversees by US companies that caused the companies to have to raise wages to the point that the business left the countries due to it being no longer a profitable enterprise; we do not want that to happen in Haiti. Therefore, I think we need to be realistic that paying Haiti employees say, $10 hour would likely raise the standard of living in Haiti and be of benefit to the workers, but a company likely would not be able to turn a profit. Therefore, we need to work to find what level of wages would still allow the company to turn a profit, and yet provide a reasonable wage and standard of living for Haiti.
Finally, whose problem is this? Should the US Govt regulate wages of companies in Haiti? Or, should the business leaders be more moral people? It may require some of both, but likely more of the latter than the former.
Finally, I wish I had enough money to go to Haiti and start a garment factory, or some other type factory, and pay a decent wage, give those people a chance at a better life, and turn a reasonable profit. I believe fully that excessive profits built on the backs of poor with "colonial" type wages is wrong--read sinful. At the same time, I recoil strongly to the sentiment that I hear throughout the country that seems to demonize any business that turns a profit. Turning a profit is not sinful, yet many seem to be leaning that direction. Therefore, we need balance. As I said, I wish I had the $ to go to Haiti and do some good for them, and me. Hey, set me up with a few $$$ and we are on the way to a Win-Win-Win situation! Keep up the great work, Larry.

c hand said...

Jerry - Good luck with your proposed business ventures in Haiti, as it is the most corrupt and over regulated economic climate in the western hemisphere. Hence the poverty.

Anonymous said...

And all this time, I thought America was the most corrupt and overregulated. Get your story straight, c hand.

c hand said...

??? Uh... Anon, I am sorry that you are confused.

If what Larry says is true we can all be rich men. We will pay $8 a day, double the going rate, sell for less and still make obscene profits. We can build a childrens playground to "give back". How do I invest?

TwoCents said...


Larry raises reasonable and troubling issues for which you rarely have more than pat, ideologocal responses that do not add to the dialogue or provide any solutions. Please try to "get in the game."

c hand said...

Consider twocents. What is delaying your response to my proposal? If some men are becoming rich "on the backs" of poor Haitians, why not seize the opportunity there?

Larry tells a silly story. If it is as easy as he suggests, why not act?

Larry James said...

c hand, I've been called silly many, many times--so many times that I smile at my obvious folly. Since in my former life I was a preacher, I have to ask you what you think the writer in James had in mind when he attempted to ignite his laboring congregation to really understand the economic power of the wealthy over against their own plight as members of the laboring class?

There are ways--tough, hard-nosed ways--to help in the reform of a place like Haiti. For example:

--US companies receiving financial incentives to invest in Haiti should be expected to develop and follow business plans that bring more to those at the bottom. This should be SOP across our policy from an international economic policy standpoint.

--US importers should have their import actions tied to some sort of "fair wage and labor index" for those who produce the imports

--The rape of the island should be redeemed by international efforts to re-forest and rebuild the economic, environmental, social and political infrastructure of the nation

--As several posts here have indicated, Haiti needs an army of community organizers to work at the creation of a labor movement that reforms the economic and political landscape of the culture

--Finally, every church, denomination or non-profit working in Haiti needs to come together and seriously address the question, "Why after all our missions and all our effort are things no better?" New approachs seem to be indicated.

Call me silly, but doing the same thing again and again while expecting a different outcome qualifies as insanity.

c hand said...

Larry - I called the story "silly" because it suggests such simple solutions.

Again, why not pay $12 a day, TRIPLE the stated rate, and get rich in the process?

Much of what ails Haiti has been caused by your proposed fixes.

c hand said...

Consider Dr. Williams if you would like a new approach.

Jerry said...

Larry, your suggestions for Haiti, an for standard international business with underdeveloped nations, seems reasonable to me. Did you create those out of your own thoughts, or are those from another source, or a combination? They seem very reasonable. Thanks for sharing.

Larry James said...

Jerry, thanks for your post. No, those ideas just came out of my very limited head! Blame them on me. Capitalistic democracies must learn to use their power and wealth in a way that positively affects everyone in a developing economy. There are ways to incentivize compliance and equity. Trouble is, we and our system believe that unfettered capitalism is not only moral, but a human right for those in control. Some businesses are changing, thankfully--take Starbucks for example.

Jerry said...

Larry, thanks for the information. You mind is full of very good ideas, and I appreciate you sharing them. One prinicple that I have become exposed to in my consulting is one that I believe moves in the direction you are advocating: "Effective relationships required mutual benefit." Often our business models do not operate on this principle, but rather on a "win-lose" model rater than a "win-win." Naturally business needs a postive return on investments in order to stay in business, but what is the benefit for the receipients of the business? I think this principle would work especially well in developing countries such as Haiti. You reference Starbucks as an example of a business that is beginning to move in the right direction. What are they doing? Keep up the great work.

Jerry said...

I was intrigued by your reference to Starbucks, so I went to their website and reviewed the information there. I am assuming you were referencing their goal to ethical production of coffee. What they had to say on the website was impressive. I am happy that there are companies who are giving such ethical considerations a place at the corporate table. Thanks for tipping me off to their efforts.

Larry James said...

Thanks, Jerry. Starbucks' corporate policy regarding how the deal with coffee growers gives me reason to buy coffee at their stores. I pay more for a cup, but the policy behind each cup justifies my decision to buy coffee from them. This principle could be applied to other industries if "the most profit possible" were not the guiding principle back of almost every decision.