More than 1,100 garment workers in Haiti are sharing $1m (£830,000) in compensation from the owner of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein after being left destitute by the closure of a factory.
PVH, which was one of several brand owners sourcing from the Vald’or factory in the Caribbean country, agreed to pay the sum to cover missed severance pay, pension contributions directly to workers and the government pension fund after involvement by the Worker Rights Consortium lobby group.
Vald’or, which is owned by a US-based company and made clothes for PVH’s licensee Centric as well as several other brands, closed its factory in Port-au-Prince in January 2022. Haiti’s garment industry has suffered amid rising violence in the country, which has affected shipments, and sliding orders from North American brands, which have been hit by the cost of living crisis.
In a rare intervention by a large fashion brand owner, most former Vald’or workers are receiving the equivalent of more than six months’ wages, and some are receiving more than a year’s pay.
Some are using the money to start businesses or to support their families after being unable to pay rent, and having been forced to withdraw children from school without money to pay fees since the factory closed.
A worker who received compensation, said he had been unemployed since the factory closed a year ago. “It is very difficult to get a new job. I haven’t got one and many of the workers are still searching,” he said.
“I felt very angry and frustrated [when the factory closed]. I had been working there more than four years and the company just let us go without any compensation.”
The worker has made a small amount of money through buying and selling goods since his role was made redundant and now plans to set up a small warehouse and expand
The agreement is one of the first globally to be signed swiftly without lengthy public pressure in which a brand owner has taken responsibility for the actions of one of its suppliers.
It marks a growing trend for brands to step in where their suppliers have not supported workers, with the lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret paying sacked workers who had been making its bras in Thailand $8.3m last year.
The payment comes after weeks of protests by garment workers over pay and conditions in Haiti last year, which resulted in a rise in the minimum wage.
A spokesperson for PVH, which is headquartered in New York, said: “As social responsibility and ethical behaviour in the global fashion and apparel industry is inseparable from our values, PVH is committed to being part of the solution, even if we bear no direct responsibility. “
It said that PVH product made up less than 1% of Vald’or’s capacity and was produced via a licensee – Centric Brands.
“We, together with Centric, believe it was the right thing to do to share in the commitment of supporting the affected workers, especially given the current context in Haiti. We are pleased that we were able to provide financial restitution for the affected workers in Val D’or Haiti and participate in a comprehensive resolution to this unfortunate situation,” the company said.
A Worker Rights Consortium report from 2021 said it had documented similar wage theft cases at 31 garment factories in nine countries.
Thulsi Narayanasamy, director of advocacy for WRC, said: “It must be a basic standard for fashion brands to ensure that when workers don’t receive what they are legally owed, they are swiftly and fully compensated.
“We’re glad to see brands increasingly recognising their obligations and paying workers, like PVH has done here. We have a long way to go, but every time a brand steps up to ensure garment workers receive what they’re owed, it makes it harder for the next brand to refuse.”
Vald’or did not respond to a request for comment.
This article was amended on 7 February 2023 to remove some personal information.