The Haitian clothing sector, employing more than 29,000 workers and accounting for 90 percent of the country's exports and about 10 percent of its GDP, just got lucky: the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, announced last week that it decided to invest 4 million US dollars in garment maker The Willbes Haitian S.A., a subsidiary of South Korea-based The Willbes & Co., Ltd.
The company will use the money to expand its garment manufacturing capacity and create 1,000 new jobs in Haiti’s capital Port au Prince by the end of 2016. The financing will also help The Willbes Haitian S.A. to add new production lines and strengthen the company’s financial position. In addition, the IFC is also mobilising another 4 million US dollars in a parallel loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, according to an IFC press statement.
Investment will create jobs and opportunities for Haitian workers
“IFC is committed to supporting Haiti’s private sector through companies like Willbes that create jobs and opportunities for people to improve their lives,” said Luc Grillet, IFC senior manager for Central America and the Caribbean. “This investment is part of our strategy of enabling growth in a priority sector, in turn generating employment and export earnings for the Haitian economy.”
“We are pleased to partner with IFC to create opportunities for Willbes’ expansion and for Haiti’s garment sector to prosper,” said Byung-Hyun Jun, president and CEO of The Willbes & Co., Ltd. “Haiti can become one of the more competitive producers of ready-made garments, and we stand ready to be part of that growth.”
The Willbes & CO., Ltd. engages in the manufacture and sale of apparel and is headquartered in Cheonan, South Korea. The company offers knitwear, sweaters, wovenwear, swimwear and microfiber products. It was founded in 1973 as Kunja Industries, Co., Ltd. but changed its name to The Willbes & CO., Ltd. in 1997. Its main markets are China, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, USA and Vietnam. The company has factories in Korea, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Among its major customers are C&A, Forever 21, Gap, Hanes Brands, Old Navy, Target, The Children's Place, Under Armour and Walmart.
The Haitian garment industry, long known for low wages (anywhere from 3.50 to 7 US dollars a day) and the production of cheap products that do not require much skills like t-shirts and other low-end apparel, has seen a number of incentives trying to change its image and direction. Industrial Revolution II or IRII for example is an initiative by CEO Rob Broggi; Diesel Canada CEO Joey Adler; the owner of Multiwear, one of Haiti’s leading clothing manufacturers, Richard Coles and Hollywood actor Matt Damon.
At IRII, workers are paid at least minimum wage, they are trained so that they can acquire new skills, and half of the company's profits are reinvested into community and social programmes within the country. IRII started operations almost two years ago, in September 2013, and currently employs more than 140 workers.Images: Batay Ouvriye / Industrial Revolution II