The first black nation to overthrow its colonial masters still enslaves 300,000 of its children. Unlike the initial slavery which gave birth to Haiti, this slavery is not a result of kidnapping or intertribal warfare but poverty.
In an island with a population of 6 million, 300,000 children perform unpaid labor because their parents are simply too poor to care of them. Thus, they are given to families slightly better off than themselves where they work in an unregulated market for food and shelter. These vulnerable children are the face of Haitian poverty.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of millennials who do their research, it has now become well-known that Hillary Clinton, in her role as secretary of state, intervened in the internal politics of Haiti to prevent the government from raising the minimum wage $.24 per hour to $.61 per hour.
That the American government throws its weight around to oppress the poor around the world is not news to the poor around the world. Americans of good conscience are rightly appalled that their government was used to keep this desperately poor nation from taking this small step to improve their lives of its people. The Haitian parliament unanimously voted for the wage increase only to be informed by their neo-colonial masters, “You’re not in charge.” For those African-Americans fond of opining about black diaspora solidarity, moments like this are opportunities for critical decision points.
However, from the perspective of America interest and democracy, the humiliation and exploitation of Haitians by Clinton’s state department is not the real scandal. The real scandal is that the American government has constituents–and it ain’t us.
The aspect of this story that should trouble Americans is how responsive the government can be to the requests of Americans when those Americans are wealthy corporations even when the requests being made by these corporations undermine the interest of American workers.
Free trade brought American corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss to Haiti. They went there for cheap labor. At the time of Clinton’s helpful intervention, there were 25,000 garment workers and a wage increase would have cost $12.5 million for the sector, which brings in billions a year. The CEO of Hanes alone made $10 million; the increase would have cost the company $1.6 million.
These billions are only benefitting a handful of Americans, and yet, the state department took proactive steps to override the will of the people of Haiti as expressed by their representatives and succeeded.
It’s not just the will of Haitians that the U.S. government ignores but of Americans. Americans who want firearm legislation cannot get it through Congress; Americans who want single payer health care are told it’s too hard; Americans opposed to military actions in Syria were ignored.
Yet, when a handful of corporations who want to keep wages low seek actions from their government, their government represents their interests. Can any American earning a five-figure salary imagine getting that sort of response from our government?
However, even that is only half of the scandal. Given the constant bleeding of American jobs to places like Haiti, how does it benefit American workers to keep wages in third world countries low?
From January 2008 to April 2015, about 86,800 jobs (or 39%) in the U.S. apparel manufacturing sector had disappeared. These jobs continue to be shipped abroad because free trade deals have made it lucrative for companies to outsource jobs to places where labor is cheap but to sell goods to places where consumer prices are high.
A State Department invested in the interest of ordinary Americans would have told the garment manufacturers if they don’t like Haiti’s new minimum wage laws, they can bring the 25,000 jobs back to the United States. Instead, Clinton took steps to maintain the very conditions that make outsourcing so attractive to corporations.
Who does our government work for? Who will Hillary Clinton work for?