Haiti earthquake diary: Factories are 'in limbo'

Haitians need work. But a visit to a clothing factory in Port-au-Prince, shows no signs of life yet.

Wednesday, Jan. 27

With each passing day, the anxiety for more aid – or at least access to it – increases.

A warehouse in the industrial park has been storing supplies that came across the border of the Dominican Republic. As trucks load up the supplies to be delivered to organized distribution points around the city, Haitians trying to find work storm the gates and try to pocket whatever they can.

The Haitian police are able to back them off, but do nothing to appease the anger of the crowd. They’re hungry, poor, and looking for work.

There used to be over 14,000 people employed in this industrial park; a business plan was in place to increase that amount to 25,000 by the end of this year and 50,000 by the end of 2011. Now it’s anyone’s guess.

George Sassine, President of the Haitian Association of Industrialists, cannot open his factory for at least another month because of the structural damage. He used to have thousands of employees, but was forced to close in 2006. He opened back up in November of last year with 160 employees and was on track to employ 900 this year.

“In limbo,” Georges says about his business.

I’ve known him for nearly 20 years and he can still make me laugh. He sees the yellow bracelet that the Plaza Hotel has all its guests wear for easy access and asks, “Where do you think you are, Club Med?”

The clocks on the wall of his factory are still ticking but it’s as if the life of the room inside has stopped mid-way through a stitch. Garments, in various stages, lay next to empty sewing machines. I can see bolts of material, partially sewn pieces of clothing, bagged garments, garments with stickers on them, and boxes marked for Gildan Activewear, Setting the Standard.

Sassine’s main concern is that the clients who he supplies - Russell, New Balance - don’t succumb to pressure from retail stores and go elsewhere. Like Walmart, he says, which has to keep its shelves filled. “Their shelves cannot be empty,” he says, very matter of factly. “If not, we lose them as clients. It’s just pure business.”

Sassine is more fortunate than some businessmen. Palm Apparel, a nearby factory, had 1,800 workers. Five hundred died when one of the buildings collapsed. Sassine didn’t lose a single employee. He’s only lost money. He estimates that he’s losing $15,000 a day. Haiti’s industrial sector has probably lost more than $3 million so far.

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