Proclaiming the Dignity of Work

Vol.3, No.1, 1997

National Work Commission, Secular Franciscan Order, U.S.A

Ed & Mary Zablocki, SFO, Chairs, 360 Beard Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14214 (716) 838- 4178

The Walt Disney Company and Abuses of Haitian Garment Workers

You may have read over the holidays about protests concerning the Walt Disney Company’s abuse of laborers in Third World countries who make Disney apparel from Pocohantas pajamas to 101 Dalmatian T-shirts. Of the $10.97 you may pay for such products at J.C. Penney’s or Wal-Mart, the laborers in Haiti receive $ .07! These are sub-subsistence wages that leave these workers as no better than indentured servants. Their meager salaries don’t cover expenses for themselves and their families. Much of their paychecks goes to paying debt they’ve incurred trying to sustain the most basic existence.

A laborer at the N.S. Mart plant earns just 28 cents an hour, which is $2.22 for a full eight-hour day. The National Labor Committee reports: “No one can survive on 28 cent-an-hour wages -- even in Haiti, which is not a cheap place to live. Seventy percent of what Haiti consumes is imported, including basic staples like rice, beans and corn meal. Food can actually be as expensive in Haiti as in the U.S. Workers producing Disney garments in Haiti are thin and tired looking. They and their families are at the edge of hunger, sinking ever deeper into debt and misery.” One worker comments: “When you enter the factories you enter misery. The companies are sucking our blood. Thirty-six gourdes [$2.22 U.S.] is too little; you can’t pay rent, you can’t eat, you can’t live on that.”

Starvation wages are only part of the story. The pressure to meet quotas is great. Supervisors are always screaming at the workers to work faster. Even leaving the line to go to a restroom is discouraged. The plants are hot, poorly lit and dusty. Drinking water is place next to the toilet, which is filthy. There is “a lot” of sexual harassment of women by supervisors. Any attempt to complain to the boss or to organize and you’re fired.

Theresa Schexnayder, SFO of Pope John XXIII Fraternity in Oakland, California, kindly alerted us to efforts that are being made to address these injustices. The National Labor Committee, a non-profit human rights advocacy group focusing on the protection of worker rights, has prepared an excellent informational packet which the Work Commission would be pleased to send you. The Committee is assisting the Haitian workers in asking Disney to: 1) meet with the workers 2) work together with Disney to clean up the factories, to guarantee respect for human and worker rights, including their legal right to organize 3) provide a modest wage increase 4) guarantee that local human rights’ organizations be allowed into plants to monitor conditions. To express your concern, please write to: Michael Eisner, CEO, Walt Disney Company, 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91522.

In his encyclical, On Human Work, John Paul II notes that “...the Church considers it her task always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated.” He stresses that “work is ‘for man’,and not man ‘for work’;” that is, work was meant to dignify and not degrade humankind. As Secular Franciscans, we are fortunate to have an appreciation of work as a gift that allows us ideally to exercise our talents to grow in our God-given dignity. Let us stand up for the rights of our less fortunate sisters and brothers for whom work is much more burden than blessing.