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8806: Open letter to Remy Cointreau from the unions (fwd)

From: Charles Arthur <charlesarthur3@hotmail.com>

Please see below the open letter to the French liqueur company, Remy 
Cointreau, written by the unions of orange workers in response to a  Remy 
Cointreau brochure complete with photos which attempts to show that the 
local Haitian company, Guacimal, is a model employer, and that there is 
nothing to worry about regarding pay and conditions.

We have just recently received the rebuttal of this document from the unions 
in Haiti, and we have translated it more or less in full below so that 
everyone can see for themselves that Remy Cointreau is responding to the 
unions´ legitimate demands with a smokescreen of deliberate falsehoods and 
outright lies. We will shortly be relaunching our campaign to bring pressure 
to bear on Remy Cointreau. Watch this space!

Charles Arthur for the Haiti Support Group


Open letter to Remy Cointreau
from the Guacimal St Raphael and Madeline Unions

Cap-Haitien, 10 July 2001

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

It is only recently that we have received your erroneous, fallacious and 
completely incorrect brochure entitled “Guacimal S.A. in Haiti” that you 
seem to be systematically sending to all those who quite rightly are 
concerned about the working conditions at the place in Haiti where your 
orange liqueur extract is prepared. Astonished as we are to be confronted by 
such a mass of gross and deliberate lies, we, who work at Guacimal S.A., 
have decided to reply in the hope of a retraction. (We remember that in the 
past you claimed you had met our union and then, when we denied it, you were 
forced to admit it wasn´t true at all.)

1.	This brochure, from the start, creates a confusion, that appears to us to 
be particularly insidious, in that it treats our two unions as one. In 
reality, the oranges that you use are, of course, harvested before they are 
cut, and the two operations take place in completely different locations.

However, in your ´marvellous` document there is not one picture, nor even 
one mention of the vast plantation, spread over hundreds of hectares, where 
several hundred of us work in the worst conditions of servitude! Not one 
image nor mention of the three hundred skeletal families who labour in this 

What is more, it is a fact that our union, the Guacimal/St Raphael 
Workers´Union was formed in October 2000, and that your Haitian associates, 
the Zephir brothers – known and recognised for their enslavement of the 
workforce - spent a number of months (up until the change of government 
following the inauguration of Aristide in February 2001) intervening with 
the Minister of Social Affairs, Mme Flambert, in order to get her to refuse 
to issue the union with the legal recognition it was due.

This is the plantation where a three month strike practically paralysed 
production, and where your agents, after having sent an emissary of the 
Minister in their own car with their own driver to try, in vain, to break 
the strike, finally resorted to the “chimerique” (Family Lavalas) mayor of 
this zone who succeeded, illegally and violently, in bringing it to an end.

It is also where the functionaries of your agents – that is, the watchmen 
and supervisor – attacked our union members in the hope of forcing us to 
back down.

And finally, it is also true that no longer than one month ago, having seen 
previous tactics fail – we had finally obtained our famous legal recognition 
– you had the entire membership of our executive committee arrested, quite 
illegally, without warrants, under the false pretext of a domestic theft! 
And we had to spend one week in jail – for nothing!

After all this, you dare to claim that unionised workers at Guacimal have 
never been subject to moral harassment or intimidation (page 5 of your 
document)!! You continue, by writing that “some excesses” are “inherent” in 
the situation in Haiti, but without “any relation” to Guacimal! We 
understand very well what you mean – Guacimal S.A. is only acting in the 
same spirit as the colonialists of St Domingue who had the affrontery to 
claim they loved and protected their slaves…!

Is it this that perhaps explains the recent rage of your representative, Mr 
Morineau, when one of our representatives, seeing that Mr Morineau refused 
to pronounce on the the criminal disparity in wages that your company judges 
to be appropriate in relation to those in other countries, suggested to him 
that this disparity, that he deemed “normal”, revealed his conception of the 
international division of labour…

2.	Now we come to the processing plant at Guacimal Madeline: the worst thing 
is that report makes the misinformation in your document blatantly visible, 
contradicted by the photos themselves: you claim you provide gloves and 
boots to all your employees; however none appear in any of the photos that 
you have selected!

This is however just the tip of the iceberg. If our wages are as adequate as 
you say they are, how is it that at the end of this season (in March 2001, 
not January as you falsely claim) we were led into a bitter struggle with 
your agents, the Zephirs, over the issue of the traditional inter-season 
loan, a loan of US$50! What made Nonce Zephir announce that, insignificant 
though this loan is, for the first time we would have to sign for it in 
front of a notary, even though never once has any employee of Guacimal S.A. 
failed to repay it? (…)

As for the wages themselves, well, your tricky language cannot succeed. You 
claim (with a little parenthese) that we earn 146.32 gourdes per day. Oh, 
what a disgrace! Our union is deeply pained to read such an incredible lie. 
When we read the qualification “for an eight hour day” we began perhaps to 
better understand you. We are paid according to the number of cases of 
oranges we process, and you yourselves confirm that often we only work for 
four hours per day, which, it is clear, cuts the rate by half. So we are 
thus at 73.16 gourdes per day. And there is more!! This is only the wage for 
the quickest among us. The majority never earn such a sum. Some days we 
return home with a pittance of 20 gourdes (There are 24 gourdes to the US 
dollar at current rates of exchange.)

You know full well that eight hours of work at full speed is a death 
sentence. Besides, we can prove that each year one of us dies, not at the 
factory, understand, but on returning home from work. But this does not 
concern you. “As in all companies, accidents at work generally are the 
result of human error. At Guacimal, accidents usually take the form of cut 
fingers when slicing the oranges..” (…)

After eight hours work cutting the oranges, we sometimes return home covered 
in blood. That is 73.16 gourdes, less that $US3 or 12 francs, for the 
majority of us in return for such an extreme labour.

You have imposed on us an increase of 1.25 gourdes at the beginning of the 
season, so that we get 4 gourdes rather than 2.75 gourdes per case. But we 
are demanding what increase? You don´t say a word. Let´s be straight about 
it. You cannot deny it and we are flabbbergasted by such an omission. The 
Minster of Social Affairs and the First of May - Batay Ouvriye Union 
Federation are witnesses to our demand for a wage increase of 17.25 gourdes, 
that is to 20 gourdes per case!! How could we have accepted such a 
climbdown? Where does one find our signature to the agreement that you 
present on page 12 of your brochure?

It seems that the wage increase that you have imposed is still more 
fictitious because you fail to provide a crucial piece of information - 
since your increase we have been short of work because of the strike at the 
St Raphael orange plantation. Thus, the famous 213 gourdes, already reduced 
by half to 106.5 gourdes, was only earnt by the best performers amongst us 
once or twice this year.  Seeing as this is a question of US$4, or 24 
francs, we really can`t see what it is that Remy Cointreau seems to be so 
proud of itself about.

You flatter yourselves when you claim to be “very clearly conforming to the 
social legislation regarding working conditions in Haiti”. In fact, this is 
absolutely untrue, as the struggles of all the Zephir brothers` workers 
indicates. Mr Morineau visited the Madeline plant (without taking the 
trouble to greet us) but stayed in one small corner of the factory so as not 
to trip over the rubbish and debris strewn over the ground. He observed the 
state of the showers; this year only one latrine was installed, and that is 
the sum total of improvements to working conditions…You know, what is more, 
that we used to have paid national holidays but that the management has done 
awsay with them despite the resistance of our union. Our working conditions 
are intolerable, the Madeline yard has neither shade nor seats, and it is 
completely false to say that we appreciate the conditions so much that we 
stay there after work and in our free time.

3.	The conditions are even more sub-human at the Guacimal/St Raphael 
plantation where the workers have no sort of toilets, showers, drinking 
water, let alone medical treatment or any other of the provisions stipulated 
by our social legislation. Furthermore, as we said to your representatives 
here, is it possible that the Remy Cointreau company, this famous liqueur 
company, is satisfied by comparing its treatment of workers with that at the 
smallest local sugar mill? Wouldn´t it be normal to expect such a company to 
offer its workers at least the best possible health care, education for 
their children, lodgings, pensions….?

4.	We know that Remy Cointreau exclaims that it is only “a minority 
shareholder”. However, when a company finds itself to be favourably placed 
commercially with regard to the other, it really should take the lead with 
regard to the conditions in which production takes place. Yet, with this 
recent deplorable defence of Guacimal S.A., you condemn yourselves.

For the Syndicat des Ouvriers de Guacimal Madeline: Elimene Micheline 
Toussaint, secretary ;

For the Syndicat des Ouvriers de Guacimal St Raphael : Sintes Estime, 


Forwarded by the Haiti Support Group - solidarity with the Haitian people´s 
struggle for justice, human rights and participatory democracy - since 1992.

See the Haiti Support Group web site: www.gn.apc.org/haitisupport

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