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#3132: Grand Marnier workers - appeal #2 (fwd)
From: Charles Arthur <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>From : The Haiti Support Group, London, UK
Please read the text below and send the letter (at the foot of this mail) or
something like it to the Marnier-Lapostelle management, and send an email to
<email@example.com> to let us know you have done so.
GRAND MARNIER WORKERS IN A HAITI
SOLIDARITY APPEAL #2 - JANUARY 2000
The UNION of MARNIER-LAPOSTELLE WORKERS (Le Syndicat des Ouvriers de
Marnier-Lapostelle - Haiti) calls for international solidarity to support
its efforts to negotiate improvements in pay and conditions at the orange
tree plantation in northern Haiti. (see model letter below)
In August 1999, the plantation workers formed a union, registered with the
Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs, in order to take up their grievances
with Novella's Daniel Zephir, who manages the plantation on behalf of the
Paris-based company, Marnier-Lapostelle. Initially some progress appeared to
be made when Zephir agreed to implement some improvements in conditions in
time for next summer's harvest. However, he was less forthcoming when the
union raised the issue of wage increases, claiming that Marnier-Lapostelle
in Paris decided the salary costs.
The Union of Marnier-Lapostelle Workers then made contact with one of the
French company's technicians when he visited the plantation in November, and
gave him a letter for the company bosses in which they appealed for some
movement on wages. However, since then, relations between Zephir and the
union have deteriorated, with union members being victimised and intimidated
by the plantation directors and supervisors.
At the end of December 1999, after five sets of talks with Zephir, the union
decided to break off negotiations. Zephir had made what the workers regarded
as derisory wage increases. All he offered was just a few cents more for
each box of oranges - an increase that in no way keeps pace with the
spiralling cost of living in Haiti.
STATE OF PLAY ON PAY
Current rate of pay Union's demand Zephir's final offer
52 gourdes per day 100 gourdes 70 gourdes
4.10 gourdes per box 7 gourdes 5.50 gourdes
14 gourdes per box 25 gourdes 17 gourdes
19.25 gourdes per box 35 gourdes 21 gourdes
Note 1: there are currently approximately 19 gourdes to the US dollar.
Note 2:The number of boxes that each worker or pair of workers can fill up,
or empty, depending on the task, each day is determined by how many hours
they are prepared to work. Often workers start before dawn and only stop
when night is falling. Each day an orange picker could fill perhaps 10 or 12
twelve boxes, and the orange peelers and graters could empty perhaps three
or four boxes.
Zephir had also insulted the workers by proposing that the orange pickers,
who at present work in pairs and are both paid the going rate for the number
of boxes picked, should in future work alone yet continue to be paid by the
box at close to the existing rate. Obviously the number of boxes they will
be able to fill by themselves will be about half the number they could fill
working in pairs!
"A bottle of Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge is sold every two seconds...",
boasts the Marnier-Lapostelle company web site. "Spiked with oranges from
the French West Indies", runs the advertising slogan on the poster. For the
1999-2000 advertising campaign, a photograph shows a woman looking up
seductively, clutching a bottle of the famous cognac-based orange liqueur,
and a caption that reads, "Ever tried it in the afternoon?"
Ever tried walking miles to do a 12 hour day clearing drainage ditches in an
orange plantation to earn less than US$3? Ever tried scraping the peel from
oranges, cutting your fingers, and feeling the orange juice seep into the
wound, over and over again, day after day, and earning just one dollar for
each completed box of oranges?
The French drinks company, Marnier-Lapostelle, recorded a net income of
around US$16 million in 1998 - a huge amount that makes the plight of the
Haitian workers who produce the orange peel for export to France all the
On a 72-hectare plantation, run by the local Haitian firm, Novella
Entreprises, on behalf of Marnier-Lapostelle, day-labourers work in the
orange groves, planting trees and keeping irrigation channels clear. Other
workers pick, peel and grate the oranges, to produce the dried peel that is
shipped to France where it is added to brandy to create the distinctive
Grand Marnier taste.
According to Batay Ouvriye, a Haitian organisation that defends workers'
interests, the workers on the Marnier-Lapostelle plantation are paid a
pittance - the day labourers are paid just 52 gourdes (a little less than
US$3) a day, while the orange pickers are paid on the basis of how many
cases they fill per day, and must work flat out for sometimes a 12 hour day
if they are to fill enough to earn anything approaching a living wage. The
same is true for those who peel and grate the rind.
The plantation lacks even the most basic toilet or washing facilities,
creating special problems for the orange peelers and graters who often cut
their hands and suffer painful irritation when the citric acid juice gets
into their wounds. 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.
At the beginning of December 1999, Batay Ouvriye publicised the union's
first appeal for letters of support to be sent to Daniel Zephir of Novella
Entreprises in Haiti and to the Marnier-Lapostelle management in Paris. The
union asked that Marnier-Lapostelle intervene with Zephir to authorise a
proper wage increase. The Haiti Support Group forwarded the appeal to
various email networks, and many individuals and organisations, including
two South African trade unions, wrote letters. However, neither the
Marnier-Lapostelle management in Paris nor Daniel Zephir have so far issued
any comment or sent any replies.
Now (January), the union has released a second appeal for international
solidarity in the form of letters to the management. The union is not
calling for a boycott, or even for a threat of a boycott of Marnier
products, but hopes that the French company will feel the negative publicity
is more costly than a meagre pay increase for the Haitian workers.
M. Maxime Coury
91 Boulevard Haussmann
717 Fifth Avenue
Fax: 212 207 4351
Dear M. Coury,
I understand that the Union of Marnier-Lapostelle Workers in Haiti has
recently felt obliged to break off negotiations with your representative, M.
Daniel Zephir, after he made derisory offers in response to the union's pay
I am very disappointed that these negotiations appear to have been sabotaged
by your representative's unreasonable offers. I am also dismayed to hear
that the union delegates have received threats and been intimidated by
agents of your representative at the plantation.
I hope that you will intervene to ensure that the union and its delegates
are treated properly, and that serious negotiations on pay increases to keep
pace with the spiralling cost of living are resumed at the earliest
I would very much appreciate a reply from you informing me of positive
developments at the Marnier-Lapostelle orange plantation in Haiti.
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