Garment Sector: A Top Employer of Women

Garment sector jobs can be a lifeline for women in the least developed countries. The income they provide stretches a long way, and is especially valuable in economies with few comparable opportunities. In many countries, including Haiti, the industry is the number one employer.

Saint Fleur Adeline lives in Ouanaminthe, an impoverished city of 100,000 on Haiti’s Dominican Republic border almost completely lacking in modern health care, education, and water and sanitation facilities. Until last year her prospects were bleak. Then things brightened considerably when she was hired by the area’s only significant private investor, apparel manufacturer Grupo M. 

Trained extensively at the Dominicanowned firm’s state-of-the-art factory, she now uses her new skills on a production line sewing jeans and tee shirts exported to Levi’s, Calvin Klein, Banana Republic, and other top brands in the U.S. Before this she was selling roasted peanuts on the streets. But now her living conditions have improved significantly, to the extent that she is now building her own house. “If I lose this job, I would stay without hope of a better future in this hard city,” she says.

Grupo M employs 6,500 Haitians at its plant in Ouanaminthe’s CODEVI free trade zone, more than half of whom are women. Roughly 1,200 of these positions have been added since IFC provided it with a $6 million financing package in March 2010, $3 million of it mobilized from the Soros Economic Development Fund, an arm of the Open Society Institutes created by investor/philanthropist George Soros. This new support allowed the firm to expand, meeting buyers’ growing demand for apparel imported duty-free from Haiti under a U.S. government free trade agreement.  By the end of 2012, Grupo M expects  to hire another 4,500 local workers at CODEVI, where working conditions meet all ILO and IFC employee health and safety standards. It is one of 28 garment factories in the country supported by the local office of Better Work. 

Realizing that improved working conditions increase productivity, Grupo M gives all its workers free access to clean water, medical and dental care, and housing improvements. To broaden CODEVI’s impact in the surrounding community, where national and municipal authorities are unable to provide many essential services, it is now working with IFC and the US-based NGO Ashoka to create a sustainable funding base for local companies that can offer clean water and hygienic food as well as health care, education, trash collection and recycling, job training, and other critical needs—not just to CODEVI workers, but to all residents of Ouanaminthe. 

The 2010 loan, part of IFC’s larger $35 million post-earthquake investment package for Haiti, continued our longstanding relationship with Grupo M. We financed its initial construction of the Haitian factory in 2003, then co-led a debt restructuring in 2006 that kept it alive when Grupo M ran into financial hardship. We are standing by it again now, as it goes to the next level. We have always believed in Grupo M’s vision for Haiti, and stick with it through good times and bad.