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9885: Cointreau - the truth (fwd)
Press release: Guacimal-Cointreau - Latest Update from Haiti - 4 December 2001
by Charles Arthur for the Haiti Support Group based on information supplied by Batay Ouvriye
(Note: Guacimal SA is a Haitian company in which the French drinks giant, RémyCointreau, holds a minority but immensely influential share.)
Beginning in October, the Rémy Cointreau company has been sending out letterssigned by Olivier Charriaud, Cointreau International Director, replying to issues
raised by supporters of the workers' unions at the Guacimal workplaces in northern Haiti. In the letter, Charriaud apologises for the delay in responding and, by way of explanation, writes that "we wanted to meet the managers of Guacimal before replying." The letter goes on to relate in some detail supposed clarifications of the situation in Haiti.
Madeline - the promises
Regarding the orange processing plant at Madeline, Rémy Cointreau say they have requested the Guacimal management to 'take all necessary measures to prevent accidents at work," to take responsibility for arranging annual medical visits for all the employees," and to cancel the debts owed to the management by
Madeline workers. The latter measure would, according to Rémy Cointreau, be "the first step in appeasing the situation, before resuming negotiations between the
Guacimal management and the trade union to begin the season in a mutual climate of respect."
Madeline - the reality
A copy of the Rémy Cointreau letter was forwarded to the Guacimal workers' unions by the Haiti Support Group. The Madeline workers' union was thus aware of
the promises contained in it when Guacimal boss, Nonce Zephir, arranged a meeting a short time later. When he began to present plans for a few improvements concerning the union's list of demands as if they were of his own initiative, the workers informed him that they had already received the Cointreau correspondence and they just wanted to know when these improvements would be put in effect.
Actions speak louder than words, and, by the end of November - well into the orange season - none of Rémy Cointreau's promises of measures to be taken by the Guacimal management had come true:
The medical visit and the other demands which were clearly agreed upon between management and the Union have never been forthcoming;
The loans made by Guacimal to the workers have not been truly eliminated. The management has recently forced the workers to repay these sums by regularly deducting portions of it from their paychecks.
And finally, although Rémy Cointreau intimated that it would send a delegate to negotiate a wage hike with the union in November, the month is finished and nothing at all has happened.
Batay Ouvriye in the north of Haiti explains: "Rémy Cointreau and the Guacimal management - the Zephir brothers - are constantly postponing things. The fact of the matter is that they are eating away at the workers' salaries and expenses with regard to their work conditions, social benefits and so on. The longer they can postpone putting agreements into effect, the more the can continue to pay miserly wages and spending nothing!"
St. Raphael - the promises
In his letter, Rémy Cointreau's Charriaud agrees that the plantation workers' union was officially recognised by the Ministry of Social Affairs in March 2001. He
goes on to stress his company's good intentions by relating how, in April 2001, "a representative of Rémy Cointreau participated in a meeting with the Guacimal
management and the unions representatives, thus demonstrating our concern for the rights of the workers and willingness to listen." He declares that Rémy
Cointreau plans to "study solutions to implicate workers in the management of the next harvest."
St. Raphael - the reality
As of the end of November, the Zephirs have continued to refuse to negotiate with the union (an act that would represent their willingness to formally recognise its existence which they deny despite the fact of its legal registration with the State authorities).
Worse still, on Saturday, November 24th, a group of six watchmen and eight thugs came to break up a union meeting at the plantation. Because the harvest was not
taking place, there were very few union members present, and this allowed the watchmen to successfully break up the meeting. They declared that the Guacimal
management had sent them to break up the meeting, and added that they would not allow either Batay Ouvriye May 1st Union Federation activists, or Batay Ouvriye militants, to enter the plantation to talk to the workers!
Two hours after this heavy-handed intervention, the watchmen's group headed towards the general coordinator of the union's home, where Batay Ouvriye activists
usually sleep, and threatened to burn the house down if ever they returned!
Batay Ouvriye reports that, "for now, workers continue to meet in small numbers in order to remobilize and be able to face this situation in which the capitalists
categorically refuse them their right to meet and plan how to put forward their legitimate demands."
The above clearly shows a massive disparity between the fine words of Rémy Cointreau and the reality on the ground in Haiti. Batay Ouvriye concludes, "The watchmen are acting directly on the orders of the Zephirs themselves, and this clearly demonstrates how Cointreau's declarations are lies to divert the concrete
understanding of international militants and progressives, as well as the public in general!"
Charriaud's letter concludes with the words, "In the event that..basic ethic(al) rules in which we believe have not been respected, we would not tolerate such behaviour" The Haiti Support Group and solidarity groups across the world are now asking Rémy Cointreau to accept its responsiblities in Haiti and take immediate action.
This email is forwarded as a service of the Haiti Support Group.
SEE THE HAITI SUPPORT GROUP WEB SITE: http://www.gn.apcorg/haitisupport
The Haiti Support Group - solidarity with the Haitian people's struggle for justice, participatory democracy and equitable development, since 1992.