Seam Stress


U.S. companies with mass-production sewing shops in Haiti:
Walt Disney, Sears, Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, among others
Haitian women producing "Mickey Mouse" and "Pocahontas" pajamas for sale in the U.S. Their hourly "salary": 12¢ an hour. Haiti's minimum "wage": 30¢ an hour. Time it takes a seamstress to make a single pair of pajamas: slightly more than 1/2 hour. Her pay for the pajamas: 7¢. Current selling price of the pajamas in the U.S.: $11.97. Profit: $11.90. Hours needed for the Haitian woman to buy such pajamas for her child (assuming she even wanted them): approximately 99.

Walmart sells "Made in USA" sports apparel with national football, basketball, and baseball francise logos. These are actually sewn and assembled in Haiti. These Haitian workers are paid the minimum wage, ~30¢ an hour.

Salary of Lawrence Pugh, CEO of VF Corporation, which distributes this line of sports apparel to Wal-Mart and other retailers: $1,888,000 a year, or $907.69 an hour (estimated).

How do the laws define when "Made in the USA" can be on a label and when it cannot? How were loopholes carefully sewn into the laws? If clothes are sewn and assembled in Haiti but, say, packaged elsewhere in the U.S., does this make them count as being "made" in the USA? Or is the law just simply ignored, with the belief that it will not be enforced or if enforced the penaties will be minor compared to the profits that may be made?

What were the campaign contributions, if any, of these and other multinational corporations or their officers to the U.S. Congress members who voted for these laws? What were the contributions of these corporations, if any, to a U.S. Presidential candidate who vowed to throw dictators out of Haiti and re-install a democratically elected President there? They would rather have stability, little further interest in Haiti from the U.S. press (since the "crisis" has passed), and a Haitian government still so weak that enforcement of minimum wage laws would probably remain

nil.

Compare the art of suturing in loopholes into legislation with the 35 minutes' worth of sewing that a Haitian seamstress takes to sew a Pocahontas pajama set.

Or consider the not just the Pocahontas pj's but the continuing revisions of the Pocahontas story involved here: who is "saved"? Whose head is on the chopping block?

What is worn when the seamstresses sleep at night? Compare these shifts to the pajamas they make.
What is the art or the vision that can suture them together (their night clothes and the clothes they make)---so we can see these pieces of clothing are part of a single fabric? What sleight of hand (faster than the eye) has separated these two fabrics, ripped apart their connections and hidden them from sight?

Compare the shirt worn by a sports star whose number would be on one of the shirts with a team logo: Michael Jordan's 23, for example. What shirt did he happen to be wearing the day a particular Bulls 23 shirt was made in Haiti? What shirt to go with his suit was Pugh wearing on that same day?

Hang Pugh's and Jordan's shirts next to the sports shirt sold in Wal-Mart, and next to that put the shirt worn by the seamstress on her job on a particular day. How and where were each made? What did the factories look like? What kinds of designs or insignia are on each of these shirts? Compare and contrast and draw your own conclusions.

And where is the logos---the Law, the Word---that can name all the threads connecting all these shirts, so we can instantly recognize what we see? And were is the "Wall" that can be the "Mart" (Wal-Mart) to display all these shirts together---a wall that will make us see rather than just help us buy?

---facts from Joel Bleifus, "Exploit Haitian," In These Times, 4-1-96, p. 8, based on a report by the National Labor Committee, a New York-based labor and human rights organization. Other material is my own.


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