"A Wikileaks post published on The Nation shows that the Obama Administration fought to keep Haitian wages at 31 cents an hour... It started when Haiti passed a law two years ago raising its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour. According to an embassy cable:
This infuriated American corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss that pay Haitians slave wages to sew their clothes. They said they would only fork over a seven-cent-an-hour increase, and they got the State Department involved. The U.S. ambassador put pressure on Haiti’s president, who duly carved out a $3 a day minimum wage for textile companies (the U.S. minimum wage, which itself is very low, works out to $58 a day).
Haiti has about 25,000 garment workers. If you paid each of them $2 a day more, it would cost their employers $50,000 per working day, or about $12.5 million a year ... As of last year Hanes had 3,200 Haitians making t-shirts for it. Paying each of them two bucks a day more would cost it about $1.6 million a year. Hanesbrands Incorporated made $211 million on $4.3 billion in sales last year.Thanks to U.S. intervention, the minimum was raised only to 31 cents."
Some questions. Since when did the Clinton state department become a division of Hanes and Levi Strauss rather than a function of the executive branch of our democracy? Was this intentionally hidden by the Obama administration? If not, why does the media scarcely mention this story? Is the media fresh out of journalists? Why am I asking rhetorical questions?
I'm not sure exactly why Clinton/Obama felt beholden to the underwear industry but both U.S. and especially Haitian citizens can have answers if they choose to seek them. This choosing to seek answers is probably what our founding fathers meant when they said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Certainly, the Haitian president felt obligated to act as a vassal to Washington due to the American outpouring of support after the earthquake last year and surely the Clinton/Obama team took advantage of this fact.
Those are issues worth investigating for someone with skill in such things. But this leak really got me thinking about something else. (And isn't that the value of leaks, Wiki or otherwise, in a democracy? To get people thinking. Thinking is dangerous to a totalitarian state, but healthy to a democracy.) It got me thinking about the undershirts I wear every day to work. I probably pay somewhere around five dollars for a pack of five. But do these shirts really cost a dollar?
The obvious answer is yes. Consumers simply look at the price tag and the resulting debit to their own personal bank account to determine the cost of any product. Their questioning stops there. Economists look a bit further and include things like opportunity costs and some measurable negative externalities. Their questioning stops there. But ethicists (which I believe all Christians are called to be) go even further. They ask about the human costs, the environmental costs, and the moral costs. A Christian ethicist has to see the world with wider eyes.
In short, this ethic asks about the true cost of things, not to the self only, but and even primarily, about our neighbor, especially the least of these. What does it truly cost to get a t-shirt for a mere dollar? Thanks to Wikileaks, we're closer to that answer. My ability to get a cheap t-shirts cost Haitian textile workers the difference between a 31 cent an hour wage and a 61 cent an hour wage. If I doubled my wage like that, I'd go from the very comfortable lifestyle I lead now to what I and most of the world outside America would consider a luxurious lifestyle. But all in all, not a big deal to me. I currently have the necessities and then some. The difference between what I make now and what I make doubled is not a life and death difference. It is not the difference between having health insurance and not having it. It is not the difference between feeding my children healthy foods and just getting them by. It is not the difference between providing my children with a decent education and making them work at a young age instead.
But for Haitians, I'd imagine it is all of these things. The Clinton/Obama team has pulled the rug out from under the lowest of the low. And the weighty thought is this: my decision to purchase a one dollar t-shirt from Hanes costs far more than one dollar. It is just that, until I widen my eyes, the one dollar portion of the cost is the only portion I'll ever notice.
Why did the Haitian president make the decision he did? He is beholden to the state department of course, thanks to an earthquake. Why did the state department exert the pressure they did on him? It is beholden to a big business, thanks to backroom dealings. Why did Hanes and Levi Strauss lobby in secret as they did? They are beholden to me, the consumer, thanks to a purchase decision. As eating is an agricultural act and voting an ethical act, so purchasing is a moral act. I am the principalities and powers.
Anyway, the next time someone tells you how benevolent America is, know that even charity has a price. It just doesn't get media play. Oh, but remember, they hate us for our freedoms.