How Haiti Answers the Call for Worker Well-Being
For apparel workers in Haiti, the salary earned from a factory job doesn’t offer much comfort. In the past year, resident protesters in communities like Port-au-Prince and Ouanaminthe have poured into streets, often lined with burning tires (or cars), to take on police. Their demands: clean drinking water, electricity, road repairs, and lower food prices.
Understanding that gourdes earned at work only go so far, especially when the root causes of poverty remain unaddressed, Madalina Bouros founded SolKomYo. It’s a social enterprise partnered with Community Enterprise Solutions that’s transforming the traditional factory into a hub for community-driven learning and change. Factories offers textile workers the tools and know-how to save, invest, and plan for their futures.
To date, more than 1,200 workers have voluntarily participated in hands-on financial literacy training and 95 percent of program graduates report being debt-free after six months.
Free from a cycle of poverty, and motivated, many apparel workers in Ouanaminthe collaborate with local entrepreneurs and students on agriculture projects and other revitalization initiatives.
We caught up with Bouros to learn more.
You describe factories as foundations for change, not just wages. How exactly does CE Solutions and SolKomYo empower garment workers?
CE Solution's strategy has incorporated two critical elements in Ouanaminthe, Haiti. These are:
1) a technology marketing and sales strategy, both within the factory and in the community, through organizational collaborations, a store, and entrepreneurship training; and
2) a family wellness financial literacy and voucher/matched savings program for the textile workers, in collaboration with vendors and Levi Strauss Foundation.
The goals have been to both provide workers with technologies that can significantly improve their health, energy, and economic well-being whilst at the same time providing appropriate financial literacy training and savings opportunities for workers to that they can both learn how to manage their family finances more effectively and efficiently and save money utilizing the current factory savings infrastructure.
What life-improving technologies are available in the factory store?
Available to factory workers and their family members are water filters, solar lamps, cook stoves, and more. By using the factory as a market, these technologies become accessible and directly contribute to improving the health and financial stability of an underserved community.
Further, the workers are happier at work, and at home, which makes the factory more competitive. An independent study determined that as many as 94 percent of the workers with access to our programs have a better opinion of their employer.
Can you share an impact story from the field?
Iphonie Felix’s story is worth mentioning. Iphonie, 35, confessed that when she began the financial literacy program she was having a very hard time personally. After her husband left her, Iphonie and her children were left with a mountain of debt. But she was able to learn to save enough of her own money to pay off the debt and felt that the course taught her to be in a better place, financially and personally. This story is one of many we hear every day from workers who were empowered by our programs.
What the vision, your vision, for the future of the apparel industry?
We have seen that in order for worker initiatives to be successful, the community, the brands and vendors, and factories need to come together to design programs which are responsive to workers’ needs. Vendors need to take ownership and recognize that investing in programs that improve the well-being of their workers not only generates social benefits but also benefits their business—reducing turnover, increasing productivity, etc. Haiti has and continues to be a great proof of concept. We have been very fortunate to work with Levi Strauss Foundation as consultants to replicate a similar program in Turkey and are now discussing replicating our project in Mexico.