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#5324: Batay Ouvriye appeal Re: Cointreau (fwd)

From: Charles Arthur <charlesarthur@hotmail.com>

Keywords: Unions, workers, Cointreau, Batay Ouvriye

There follows a translation from French of an email sent by Batay Ouvriye 
(Workers' Struggle), a Haitian popular organisation that supports the 
development of an independent and combative workers' movement in Haiti.

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(translated from French by Charles Arthur for the Haiti Support Group)

Friends of the Batay Ouvriye movement,

Today we are launching an urgent appeal for support for the country's 
struggling workers who are up against savage exploitation at the hands of a 
large multinational company. It concerns the production of Cointreau carried 
out in medieval conditions where the rights of workers are systematically 
trampled underfoot.  We are counting on your support to continue to push 
this dossier, to organise a wide range of actions, and generally to develop 
all forms of solidarity that you think will help. (*see footnote)

In solidarity,

Yannick Etienne - Batay Ouvriye

* *  * * * * * * * * * * *




In 1999-2000, Batay Ouvriye launched a solidarity campaign directed at the 
Marnier-Lapostelle company, the producer of the Grand Marnier liqueur. This 
campaign, amplified by the French Réseau-Solidarité and the Haiti Support 
Group, brought about an appreciable increase in salaries at the plantation 
and a general improvement in working conditions.

On learning of this progress, workers at the neighbouring company, Guacimal 
S.A. (also in the north of Haiti), which produces the basic constituent 
necessary for the manufacture of the Cointreau liqueur, also decided to 
organise themselves and demand their legitimate rights. There are groups in 
two locations, St Raphaël and Madeline, both processing the bitter oranges 
that form the basis of the production of the spirit. There are several 
hundred workers who climb the trees and pick the fruit, and also some 35 men 
and women at a factory who peel the fruit from which the juice is extracted.

This latter group has already organised itself, and now finds itself 
targeted by Nonce and Daniel Zephir, the managers of the enterprise.

Their demands:
1) An end to the discriminatory practices that deprive workers of their 
legal rights;
2) Respect for the law in relation to the Labour Code;
3) A wage increase;
4) Respect for union rights, in-house regulations, and the principle of 
collective bargaining.

However, the establishment that carries on the production of Cointreau in 
Haiti is totally illegal. With no respect whatsoever for even the minimum 
existing legislation (already archaic as it is - the Labour Code dates from 
the Duvalier era), the French multimillionaires' managers use all the 
possible tricks and ruses to squeeze the pennies out of the labours of 
people already existing on the threshold of the most abject poverty. These 
bloody underlings of the Cointreau company are not content to bleed the 
workers dry (the daily minimum wage of 36 gourdes represents $1.25!), but 
also maintain working conditions worthy of the most sordid feudal 
workplaces. Working with these Bigarade bitter oranges (citrus aurentium) 
severely affects the workers' health, eating away at fingernails and causing 
serious lung complications.

It is no less than astonishing that, as the union goes on its knees to 
demand legitimate and due rights, these underlings come up with a pretext to 
contest the composition of the union itself.
The interests of super-exploitation are served!

The first demand was, in effect, the first to be contested. Richemin 
Milfort, General Coordinator of the Union, had been elected to this post 
precisely on the basis of nondiscrimination. Working on the treatment of the 
waste generated by the factory over the last twenty-five years, he and two 
others are passed over and marginalised when it comes to bonuses and 
holidays. Whatsmore, under the pretext of late signatures, they have not 
received their ID badges during the course of the past year. For the Union, 
their lowly position and poor treatment represented the epitome of the 
factory's despotic practices, and on this basis Milfort was elected General 

But in the course of the first meeting with the factory management, held on 
29 August, the Zephir brothers, in an act of gross interference, contested 
the nomination of Milfort as General Coordinator, and conditioned the 
continuation of the negotiations on his non-participation...

The negotiations, which it should be pointed out only concern demands that 
are clearly legitimate according to the law, are today blocked by this 
situation. Work for this season cannot begin. The workers are consigned to a 
penury all the more painful as the beginning of the school year comes at a 
time when the gourde is in free fall and there is unbridled inflation. It is 
clear from the outset that the Zephir brothers intend to suppress the 

Why is this taking place on behalf of production for a multimillionaire 
a) To avoid for as long as possible having to reply to the workers' demand 
for a wage increase - from the current US$0.11 paid for each completed case 
of oranges, to US$0.80 per case;
b) To avoid for as long as possible having to repair the disgusting toilets 
and showers, and to create decent working conditions in the factory;
c) To maintain as long as possible the despotic regime of the foreman, 
Philippe Mompoint, who insults the workers all day long;
d) To continue to avoid for as long as possible having to pay employers' 
social contributions (bonuses, holidays, insurance, pensions, etc.);
e) In general, to perpetuate wherever possible the super-exploitation of the 
miserable workers at the Cointreau factory!

The only possible arbitrator, the regional office of the Ministry of Social 
Affairs, was long ago bought off by the Zephir brothers...

There only remains the power of a determined union, supported by active 
international solidarity. The Union has decided to put this to the test not 
just by supporting its Coordinator (by going to a labour tribunal if 
necessary) but by refusing to back down from its list of basic demands. 
Let's help it put pressure on the Zephir brothers command centre - the house 
of Cointreau, which sells 13 million bottles a year...Let's inform the 
millions of consumers that Remy Cointreau relies on the most retrograde 
bosses to super-exploit workers in Haiti while boasting all over the world 
of the classic and smooth quality of its product !  We are relying on you to 
develop an active and militant response!

Batay Ouvriye
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This email was sent by the Haiti Support Group - - solidarity with the 
Haitian people's struggle for justice, participatory democracy and equitable 
development, since 1992.

* An email suggesting one form of solidarity action in support of the 
Cointreau workers' union will follow.

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