A Haitian Sweatshop Worker Speaks: “Mrs. Clinton Can Have Her Factories”

by Beverly Bell (Haiti Liberte)
The following is an interview Beverly Bell conducted with Marjorie
Valcelat, an assembly work who ran an embroidery machine in a factory from 2005
to 2008. She says the experience made her so sick and weak that she’s not felt
able to work since then.
I had three children I had to
take care of; their father had left. And since I hadn’t had enough schooling, I
didn’t have the skills to do much. So I said to myself, “I’m going to work at a
factory.” When I got there, they showed me how to run the machines to embroider
slips and nightshirts. I spent a month training, but during that time they
didn’t pay me; I had to pay them for the training.

I had met the quota, every two weeks I would have made 1,250 gourdes
[US$30.00]. Yep, that’s it. But I couldn’t meet the quota, because embroidery
wasn’t my specialty. I did what I could. Sometimes they paid me 500 gourdes
[US$12.50], sometimes 400 gourdes [US $9.50], every two weeks. I needed to
support my family and I couldn’t survive.
when the machine broke and I called the mechanics to fix the machine – you put
a red cloth on the machine so they’d know it’s broken – they wouldn’t come
because I was so scrawny. The big women, the ones with the fat bottoms that
they can feel up, the mechanics would go fix their machines. I had been in good
shape, big, but the machine and those lights were sucking me dry. So I could
never get the machine fixed [so I could keep embroidering] and that put me even
more under quota.
was such misery. And then, I had to travel from far away. There were times when
I had to get on the road at 4:00 in the morning, but there’d be traffic jams
and I still couldn’t arrive on time. At 6:00, they would close the entrance
gates. That would mean that I got all the way there, but then I had to turn
around and break my back to return home, and they never paid me. And I’d still
have to pay the two bus fares, 20 gourdes [47 cents], and where was I supposed
to get that money? Sometimes I had to borrow money just to get to work.
didn’t even have time to eat. They’d let you out at 11:00, and then they’d ring
the bell before 11:30. You had to return. There were people who’d throw out the
rest of their food because they didn’t have enough time to eat. Sometimes the
vendors near the plant would run out of food, and you’d have to spend a lot of
time trying to find food [further away]. If you got back after 11:30 to find
the gates closed, you lost the whole day.
then oftentimes, because you had to move so fast, the needle would break inside
your finger. One person I knew, the needle sewed through her finger and to this
day, she still can’t use it.
thought I would do better over time, but I got worse because my muscles got too
weak. The last time I was paid, I got 190 gourdes [US$4.52] for two weeks. I
had just gone [to the factory] so the children could go to school and their
life could be better than mine. I said to myself, “Well, I don’t need to come
here any more. I’d best quit this.”
I left the factory, I was so angry that when I passed the woman who’d cooked
the food I had bought for lunch, I just gave her all the money and went on my
if I had a message I could send to the higher-ups: there will always be
factories, because they’ve always existed, crushing the poor. I don’t speak for
other people, and some people will still go work in the factories. But Mrs.
Bill Clinton will never see me working there. [As Secretary of State, she
promoted the expansion of the export assembly industry.] I will never go to
whatever factory Mrs. Clinton opened.
need another model, we do. I could understand if [the US government] came to
Haiti and wanted to build schools, because so many schools were destroyed and a
lot of children are in the streets. If [they] worked alongside people like
this, reconstructing schools, building some health centers, well, that would be
better than a factory.
Clinton can have her factories. Me and my children, we’ll take the health
Beverly Bell is the author of the new book “Fault Lines: Views Across
Haiti’s Divide.” Many thanks to Lynn Selby for translating Marjorie Valcelat’s
interview. This interview was originally published on otherworldsarepossible.org.