In addition to its letter to the editor denying that it lobbied against an increase in the minimum wage in Haiti, Levi Strauss & Co. issued an official statement in response to the article, “Let Them Live on $3 a Day,” declaring that, “The Nation’s allegations against Levi Strauss and Co. are false. We did not advocate against the Haitian government raising the minimum wage—and we did not ask anyone to do so on our behalf.”
Actually, that is not what we said.
Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives reported that contractors for Levi’s, Hanes, and other US firms pushed successfully—with the help of officials from the US Embassy—to kill a hike in Haiti’s minimum wage in the apparel sector to $5 a day. The Association of Haitian Industry (ADIH), which represents the factory owners—including CODEVI, which makes clothing for Levi’s—lobbied against the measure, which had been passed by the Haitian Parliament in June 2009. The role of ADIH is described in a June 17, 2009, confidential cable from chargé d’affaires Thomas C. Tighe to Washington cited in the article.
Unfortunately, to accord with the publishing schedule of Haiti Liberté, our partner in this series on the Haiti-related WikiLeaks cables, The Nation had to temporarily remove the minimum wage article from our website after initially posting it on June 1. A few bloggers on other sites posted summaries of the article after it first went up, and those summaries contained some inaccuracies.
Levi Strauss claims that The Nation reported that the company “asked” its supplier to lobby against the minimum wage increase. Again, that is not what we said. And what we did say was accurate: the company’s contractor was part of a industry group that lobbied to kill the minimum wage law, which was hugely popular among the desperately poor Haitian people, who cannot feed their families on less than $12.50 a day.
Labor groups say, and many in the industry agree, that giants like Levi’s have an obligation to ensure that their contractors abide by certain basic standards, including treating workers fairly and paying a living wage. Indeed, it seems from Levi’s response to The Nation’s article that the company shares that view. “Our long term record demonstrates our commitment to workers in Haiti,” writes Senior Vice President & Chief Supply Chain Officer David Love, explaining that the company asked for and received assurances from its contractor that it did not lobby against the minimum wage increase.
Levi Strauss is so vehement in denying any role in opposing the Haitian minimum wage increase, it raises the question: Where does the company actually stand on the issue? In October 2010, in keeping with the two-tiered structure established in 2009, assembly workers’ minimum wage increased to 200 gourdes a day, while in all other sectors it went to 250 gourdes ($6.25). Does Levi Strauss endorse the two-tiered wage system in Haiti? Will they support one minimum wage for all Haitian workers? Will they insist that the workers employed by their contractors in the apparel assembly sector earn at least 250 gourdes a day?