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7931: Cointreau workers - Urgent action: 17 May 2001 (fwd)

From: Tttnhm@aol.com

Cointreau workers - Urgent action issued by the Haiti Support Group: 17 May 

SUBJECT: Haiti - Cointreau orange workers and local farmers occupy a 
plantation in response to the latest episode in a sustained anti-union 

The Haiti Support Group expresses its concern at reports of further 
anti-union measures at the Guacimal/Rémy Cointreau orange plantation at St. 
Raphaël in northern Haiti. 

According to the Haitian workers’ movement, Batay Ouvriye, the plantation 
overseer, Jean-Marie St. Fleur, is discriminating against members of the 
union, the Syndicat des Ouvriers de Guacimal-St. Raphaël, in the allocation 
of land plots for the use of plantation workers and other local farmers. 

Now, local peasant farmers and union members have occupied the plantation in 
an effort to force the managers to negotiate a settlement with the orange 
workers' union. International solidarity is needed to put pressure on Rémy 
Cointreau which can instruct its Haitian partners to resolve the dispute and 
negotiate with the union.

St. Raphaël is a small locality in the northern region of Haiti where the 
Haitian company, Guacimal SA, has orange plantations on which about 300 
workers are employed in the harvesting of bitter oranges. These oranges are 
used in the manufacture of the famous Cointreau liqueur. Guacimal SA is 
part-owned by the French drinks giant, Rémy Cointreau. 

At the beginning of October 2000, St. Raphaël plantation workers registered 
as a union with the Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs, and sent a list of 
its grievances and requests for improvements in wages and working conditions 
to the Guacimal management. However, no negotiations took place, and, in 
mid-December, the union went on strike. 

For ten weeks, the union members maintained the strike in the face of 
pressure and intimidation from the management, the Lavalas Family mayor of 
St. Raphaël, and the local representative of the Ministry of Social Affairs. 
During this time, the Guacimal SA management used the plantation overseer and 
his guards to intimidate and violently harass the union members. In one 
incident, a plantation guard attacked the union's leader with a machete.

At the end of February, the Lavalas Family mayor unilaterally intervened to 
break the strike, and the plantation overseer attempted to bar union members 
from returning to work. When the orange harvest ended at the end of March, 
the dispute had not been resolved, and the Guacimal SA management was still 
maintaining its refusal to negotiate with the legally established union.

Now, a new form of anti-union discrimination has caused the dispute to spread 
and involve local peasant farmers.

Each year, between April and August, there is an 'off season' when oranges 
are not harvested, and laid-off plantation workers, and other local people, 
are allowed to grow millet and corn on small plots of plantation land between 
the orange trees. Under the share-cropping system, half of any produce grown 
on the land is handed over to the landowners or managers. At the close of the 
harvest season this year, the plantation overseer, Jean-Marie St. Fleur, 
ordered the plantation watchmen to discriminate against union members when 
the land parcels were distributed.

When the discrimination against union members became apparent, the union 
allied itself with a recently formed planters' association composed of local 
farmers who also work the plantation land in the 'off season'. Together the 
two groups protested against the situation. However, the plantation guards 
not only ignored the protests, but on 20 April, Martial Compère, a plantation 
watchman, severely beat a child for having picked a couple of oranges. 

In response, the planters' association, which includes several union members, 
occupied the Guacimal plantation on 27 April, demanding that the watchmen and 
overseer back off. They have declared they will no longer share half of their 
harvest with the plantation supervisors as had been the custom in the past, 
nor will they take orders from the present overseer or watchmen. They have 
declared that, though they have no intention of cutting down the orange 
trees, the management of Guacimal SA would be wise to come to negotiate an 
agreement with them. 

The Haiti Support Group urges those who share our concern for workers' 
rights, and for internationally recognized human rights, to write to Rémy 
Cointreau expressing the urgent need for the Guacimal SA management to 
negotiate a settlement with the Syndicat des Ouvriers de Guacimal St. Raphaël 
and the planters' association.

Point out that the union is a legally registered entity and, that to conform 
to local labor legislation, the Guacimal SA company must enter into serious 
negotiations to address the union's grievances.

Please write or email to:

Dominique Hériard Dubreuil
Rémy Cointreau
152, avenue des Champs-Élysées,
75008 Paris
Email: joelle.jezequel@remy-cointreau.com

or to :

Rémy Cointreau Amerique
1350 Avenue of the Americas, 7th Floor
NY 10019
Phone : (1) (212) 399 4200
Fax : (1) (212) 399 6909

Model letter: 

Dear Dominique Hériard Dubreuil,

I am shocked to learn of the refusal of Guacimal S.A. to meet and negotiate 
with the legally established Syndicat des Ouvriers de Guacimal-St. Raphaël. 
Furthermore I am distressed to read reports that union members have been 
intimidated and harassed by Guacimal S.A. staff. Such actions are 
unacceptable violations of basic labor and human rights, and I urge you to 
take action.

I have recently been informed that even now, during the 'off season', workers 
are suffering retaliation for forming a union. These practices must end. I 
know that Rémy Cointreau is an important share-holder in Guacimal S.A, and 
that the oranges grown at St. Raphaël are used in the manufacture of the 
Cointreau liqueur. I urge you to communicate with the management team in 
Haiti, and use your influence to get them to negotiate in good faith with the 
union that the workers have chosen to represent them.

Yours sincerely,

_____________________________________________________________This email is 
forwarded as a service of the Haiti Support Group. 


The Haiti Support Group - solidarity with the Haitian people's struggle for 
justice, participatory democracy and equitable development, since 1992.