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#1297: Appeal for solidarity with Haitian Grand Marnier workers (fwd)
URGENT APPEAL for
Solidarity with the Grand Marnier-Lapostelle plantation workers in Haiti.
"A bottle of Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge is sold every two seconds...",
boasts the Grand Marnier-Lapostelle web site. "Spiked with oranges from the
French West Indies", runs the advertising slogan on the poster showing a
laughing woman reclining on a chaise longue clutching a bottle of the
famous cognac-based orange liqueur.
The French drinks company, Marnier-Lapostelle, is preparing to reap the
profits from Christmas-time and millenium sales of its exclusive product.
As it does so, the story of the workers who pick the oranges, and separate
and dry the peel that is used to produce Grand Marnier, comes to light.
The "French West Indies" is hardly an accurate term for the Caribbean
nation of Haiti where these oranges are grown. Haiti was once a French
colony, but two hundred years ago, the black African slaves rose up and
overthrew their masters. Guadeloupe and Martinique may still be part of
France, but Haiti has been independent since 1804. However, the descendents
of the victorious Haitian fighters today find themselves working on an
orange tree plantation, near the northern city of Cap-Haitien, in
conditions little different to those of yesteryear.
On a 72-hectare plantation, run by the local Haitian firm, Novella
Entreprises, on behalf of Marnier-Lapostelle, day-labourers pick and peel
oranges for a pittance, and must endure extremely difficult conditions.
According to Batay Ouvriye, a Haitian organisation that defends workers'
interests, the plantation workers are lucky to make even the legal daily
minimum wage of 35 gourdes (US$2). The orange pickers are paid on the
basis of how many cases they fill per day, and must work flat out all through
the day if they are to fill enought to earn a living wage. The same is true
those who peel the rind from the fruit - they are paid just a few gourdes for
case of oranges they peel.
The plantation lacks even the most basic toilet or washing facilities,
creating special problems for the orange peelers who suffer irritation to
the hands and face from the citric acid juice. Constant exposure to the
acidic spray also causes respiratory and digestive problems. None of the
workers can claim the sick leave nor the annual holidays that are specified
by Haitian labour law.
Earlier this year, the plantation workers formed a union, registered with
the Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs, in order to take up their
grievances with the Novella management. At the first meeting, negotiations
appeared to bring some positive results. Daniel Zephir, one of the two
brothers who run Novella on behalf of their uncle, Jacques Novella, pledged
to provide workers with drinking water, toilets and showers. He however
claimed that he was unable to make any decision about a review of wages,
and stated that this was a matter for Marnier-Lapostelle.
With no indication given as to when the improvements in facilities might
take place, and dissatisfied with the reply about wages, the workers
informed Zephir of their intention to stop work if their demands were not
addressed. Another meeting with Daniel Zephir was held on November 10,
but he had nothing to add to his previous answers, and again said that,
from his point of view, wages were not negotiable.
On November 23, the union committee met with two representatives of the
Marnier-Lapostelle who insisted that the French company had provided
sufficient money for the workers to be paid adequate wages. They added that
they wanted their company to operate in accordance with Haitian laws, and,
if this was not the case, it was not them but the managers of Novella who
In response, the plantation workers' union wrote a letter to the
Marnier-Lapostelle management pointing out that neither the workers' rights
nor the Haitian labour laws were being respected at the plantation. The
letter also asked Marnier-Lapostelle to take on responsibility for Daniel
Zephir's flouting of national labour standards.
Since then, the workers at the plantation have reported a deterioration in
relations with the Zephir brothers, with union members victimised and
intimidated by the directors and supervisors. The continued existence of
the union committee is now seriously threatened.
Representatives of Marnier-Lapostelle will return to Haiti on December 10,
and Batay Ouvriye is urgently appealing for letters to be sent the Zephir
brothers, and to the Marnier-Lapostelle management, asking them to respect
workers' rights, and to grant a pay rise. These measures should appear in a
collective contract signed by the union and the company.
PLEASE WRITE TO THE ZEPHIR BROTHERS AND MARNIER-LAPOSTELLE AS SOON AS
POSSIBLE USING THE MODEL LETTERS BELOW AS A GUIDE. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE
WORKERS' ORGANISATION IS NOT ASKING FOR A BOYCOTT OF GRAND MARNIER PRODUCTS,
BUT IS REQUESTING THAT THE MARNIER-LAPOSTELLE MANAGEMENT INTERCEDE WITH
NOVELLA SO THAT PROPER AND MEANINGFUL NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE LEGALLY
RECOGNISED WORKERS' ORGANISATION TAKE PLACE.
COPIES SHOULD BE FAXED OR EMAILED TO PARIS SO THAT THEY ARRIVE AS SOON AS
POSSIBLE - PREFERABLY BEFORE THIS FRIDAY 10 DECEMBER WHEN THE
MARNIER-LAPOSTELLE REPRESENTATIVES ARRIVE IN HAITI.
COPIES OF YOUR LETTERS SHOULD ALSO BE EMAILED TO BATAY OUVRIYE
<email@example.com> SO THAT THEY CAN BE SHOWN TO THE NOVELLA
MANAGEMENT AND TO THE MARNIER- LAPOSTELLE REPRESENTATIVES WHEN THEY ARRIVE IN
HAITI THIS COMING WEEKEND.
Daniel and Nonce Zephir - Directeurs
Dear Daniel and Nonce Zephir,
I understand from workers at the orange tree plantation producing for the
French Marnier-Lapostelle company in the Cap-Haitien area that negotiations
between yourselves and a union representing plantation workers have
recently taken place.
I commend you for willingness to enter into negotiations with the workers'
organisation because, according to the information that I have received,
they have many grievances that merit your attention.
I hope that you will continue these negotiations in good faith, and will
respond positively and quickly to the union's request for an improvement in
working conditions, and especially for an increase in daily rates of pay. I
am particularly concerned that workers are experiencing great difficulties
in earning a daily wage that is sufficient to afford any quality of life in
I am also writing to the management of Marnier-Lapostelle in Paris to
inform them of my concern that proper respect is accorded to the rights of
workers at the Marnier-Lapostelle plantation.
M. Maxime Coury
Chief Executive Officer
Societe des Produits Marnier-Lapostelle SA
91 Boulevard Haussmann
Fax: 33 1 42 66 57 13
Dear M. Coury,
I am writing to express my concern about the apparent lack of respect for
workers' rights, and the disregard for Haitian labour laws at the orange
tree plantation managed by the Etablissements Novella in the Cap-Haitien
area in Haiti.
I trust that you will agree that the working conditions and rate of pay for
workers at the plantation are unacceptable.
I hope that your company will intervene where possible with the management
of the Etablissements Novella so that negotiations with the workers' union
take place in good faith, and that a resolution of the workers' grievances
can be agreed. In this regard, I hope very much that a collective contract
between the management and union is signed as soon as possible.
Please also inform the Haiti Support Group <firstname.lastname@example.org> if you
have responded to this appeal.