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Dominique Hériard Dubreuil
152, avenue des Champs-Élysées,
11 January 2002
Dear Madame Hériard Dubreuil,
We are writing once again to implore your company to act immediately to ensure the rights of the legitimate trade unions at the two Guacimal SA workplaces in Haiti. We know that Rémy Cointreau is only a minority share-holder in Guacimal SA, but we expect an internationally-known and respected company such as yours to exert its undoubted influence in support of basic and fundamental labour and human rights when and where it can.
In October 2001, we received a letter from Olivier Charriaud, Cointreau's International Director, in which he made a number of claims and expressions of your company's good intentions that we have since found to be almost totally without substance. Please allow us to address these points in some detail:
Regarding the Guacimal SA orange processing plant at Madeline, Rémy Cointreau says it has 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 M. Charriaud, 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."
However, 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, by the end of the year, nothing at all had happened.
As for the Guacimal SA orange tree plantation in St. Raphael, in his letter M. Charriaud agrees that the plantation workers' union was officially recognised by the Ministry of Social Affairs in March 2001. He stresses your 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." These are progressive statements. Unfortunately they bear no relation to what is actually happening at St. Raphael.
As of the end of December, the Guacimal managers in the persons of the Zephir brothers have continued to refuse to negotiate with the St Raphael workers' union. They appear to believe that any such meeting would represent their formal recognition of the union's existence, and this is something which they apparently cannot countenance, despite the fact of its legal registration with the State authorities, and despite the fact that Rémy Cointreau apparently recognises it!
Worse still, on Saturday, November 24th, a group of six watchmen accompanied by 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, and added that they would not allow activists from the Batay Ouvriye May 1st union federation 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!
The above clearly shows a massive disparity between the fine words of Rémy Cointreau and the reality on the ground in Haiti.
The dispute at Guacimal's two orange production facilities that produce extract for use in the Cointreau liqueur has now dragged on for over one year. The workers and their families have suffered more than enough. It is time for Rémy Cointreau to intervene with the Guacimal management and impress on it the necessity of immediately holding proper negotiations on pay and conditions with the workers' unions, and of immediately implementing long overdue improvements.
Unless an immediate initiative is taken, we will be forced to conclude that the Guacimal management, with the blessing of Rémy Cointreau, is dragging its heals in the hope of avoiding meaningful negotiations and improvements in working conditions for another orange harvesting season. This is totally unacceptable. There is no excuse for any further delays!
Having be involved in correspondence with you on this matter for over one year, we await your reply advising us of positive developments with the utmost impatience.
director, the Haiti Support Group
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, President of Haiti,
International Labour Organisation
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations
GMB European Office
GMB Head Office - London
International Labor Rights Fund
Campaign for Labor Rights
International Centre for Trade Union Rights
Policy & Information Center for International Solidarity
Alliance for Global Justice
Business & Human Rights
Left Business Observer
War on Want
The Financial Times
The New Internationalist
BBC World Service
Latin America Press
Human Rights Watch
Collectif Haïti de France
International Lawyers' Office - Port-au-Prince
Radio Haiti Inter
Radio Vision 2000
Radio Signal FM
Agence Haiti de Presse
The Haitian Times
Haiti en Marche
Partners in Health
Windows on Haiti
National Coalition for Haitian Rights - Haiti
Aksyon Katolik Ouvriye
Intersyndicale Premier Mai - Batay Ouvriye
Syndicat des Ouvriers de Guacimal Madeline
Syndicat des Ouvriers de Guacimal St. Raphael
Syndicat des Ouvriers de Marnier-Lapostolle
Syndicat des Ouvriers des Etablissements Novella
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.