Haitian garment workers | Toronto Star

Haitian garment workers | Toronto Star

Gildan

Gildan shifted its (unionized) Canadian and US production to Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, where it has pursued aggressive anti-union "sweatshop" policies. Without a high-profile brand name until recently, Gildan has focused on producing T-shirts and socks at the absolute lowest cost possible.

Despite Gildan moving its production to low-wage jurisdictions and its headquarters to a Carribean tax haven, Ottawa has continued to advance the Montreal company's interests. In 2004 Ottawa helped overthrow Haiti's elected government and backed a military coup in Honduras five years later partly to protect Gildan's ultra-low-wage production model.

At the start of 2003 Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government increased the Haitian minimum wage from 36 gourdes (US$1) a day to 70 gourdes. Of course, this was opposed by domestic and international capital, which used Haiti's lowest wages in the hemisphere as a way to beat back workers' demands in other Caribbean and Central American countries. At the time most of Gildan's work in Haiti was subcontracted to Andy Apaid, who led the Group 184 domestic "civil society" that pushed to overthrow Aristide's elected government.

Coincidentally, two days after the February 29, 2004 US/France/Canada coup, Foreign Affairs stated "some Canadian companies are looking to shift garment production to Haiti." By 2009 Gildan was the country's largest employer after the state, employing up to 8,000 Haitians (directly and indirectly) in Port-au-Prince's assembly sector.

To the west, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya raised the minimum wage by 60 per cent at the start of 2009. Gildan's opposition to Zelaya's move to increase the minimum wage was one reason Ottawa tacitly supported the ouster of the elected president later that year. Under pressure from the Maquila Solidarity Network, Nike, Gap and two other US-based apparel companies operating in Honduras released a statement that called for the restoration of democracy three weeks after the military overthrew Zelaya.

With half of its operations in the country, Gildan refused to sign this statement. Since the coup Gildan's Honduran workforce has grown from 11,000 to 26,000, making it the largest private employer in the country.