Executive Director for Canada
International Finance Corporation
1818 H St. NW
Washington DC, 20433
October 8, 2003
Dear Mr Massé,
We are writing to express our concern that the IFC will finance a project, which is likely to lead to the violation of workers rights. The project in question, a proposed $23 million loan to the Dominican company Grupo M for a free trade zone in Haiti, is scheduled to be considered at the meeting of the IFC Board on Thursday 9 October.
IFC representatives have stated in writing (in a letter to Mr. Charles
Arthur of the UK-based Haiti Support Group) that they can confirm that all of the workers in the Grupo M project will have the rights to organize
unions and bargain collectively. This promise appears to be based on
statements of company policy and codes of conduct adopted by some of Grupo M's clients.
According to Haitian NGOs, these voluntary codes have proven to be very weak instruments. On the basis of the very poor record of enforcement of labour rights in Haiti, and testimonies received from workers of Grupo M factories in the Dominican Republic (documented by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions), there is a risk that these rights will, in fact, be violated.
The ICFTU has recently received reports that workers at the first phase of Grupo M's operations were warned by supervisors that they could not unionize. Within weeks of the first factory opening, twenty workers have been fired for asking for improved conditions. The Haitian NGO, Groupe d'Appui aux Rapatries et Refugies, reports that employees have been forbidden to organise themselves or discuss politics while inside the zone. Concerns for workers' rights have increased following the July 16th report in the Haiti Progres newspaper that Grupo M's private security force for the new free zone is headed by a "renowned criminal".
Villardouin Joseph, a member of a local peasant farmers association, was released from prison on 4 September. Joseph had been arrested by police on 22 May for supposed involvement with resistance to the seizure of farmland for the construction of the free trade zone. No paperwork relating to his arrest and detention was presented to him, and during his three and half months in prison he did not appear before any judge.
The General Secretary of the ICFTU wrote to Mr. Woicke five weeks ago to insist that the IFC's contract with Grupo M must include an obligation to respect all of the core labour standards. A verbal commitment was made by Mr. Woicke to a representative of the ICFTU during the Annual Meetings in Dubai to "consider" the application of the core labour standards to the Grupo M loan. We urge the IFC Board not to approve this loan unless it includes a contractual commitment by Grupo M to respect the workers' right to freedom of association and to bargain collectively as well as the other core labour standards.