Once a major producer of textiles and clothing, Haiti's industrial base atrophied over years of insecurity, neglect, embargo and then suffered an additional setback with the January 2010 earthquake, but there are new signs of life and hope for the island nation. Preceded by the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act that reenergized the apparel sector in 2006, Congress responded to the earthquake by improving U.S. market access for Haitian apparel exports. They did so by enacting new legislation called the Haitian Economic Lift Program (HELP). Thanks to this legislation and to aggressive marketing by the Government of Haiti and donor countries, foreign investors in the garment-manufacturing industry realize that Haiti's competitive advantage in terms of close proximity to the United States, coupled with a motivated and affordable labor force make it a very desirable place to do business.
Mark D'Sa, the State Department's Senior Advisor for Industrial Development in Haiti, spoke to over 50 graduate students studying for their Master's in Global Fashion, at a recent Fashion Institute of Technology conference in New York City. Speaking for years of experience at companies, such as Gap, Inc., as well as working in pre-earthquake Haiti as a source for apparel, Mr. D'sa painted a picture of a globally-focused industry that deals with environmental factors, volatility, fluctuating costs, and an increasing demand for low-cost, high-quality apparel. The students came from Paris, Hong Kong, and New York, and enthusiastically engaged Mr. D'Sa about his experience in the private sector, as well as an advocate for investing in Haiti.
Echoing newly-confirmed Haitian Prime Minister Gary Conille's primary goal of job creation in Haiti, Mr. D'Sa explained how the textile industry is already helping Haiti stand on its feet again. Construction of a new industrial park in the northern part of the country is slated to break ground in the coming month, and will initially create 20,000 jobs, and over three times that many in the following months and years. Garments for sale in the United States will be created in northern Haiti, heralding a return of large-scale textile production.
As Mr. D'Sa explained the vital importance of "enlightened self-interest" and corporate social responsibility in helping rebuild Haiti, he coupled that need with the tangible benefits that companies would enjoy if they invested in Haiti. The students lingered to ask questions of Mr. D'Sa and get his thoughts on their ideas on supply chain management and global social responsibility. As Haiti moves towards a stronger future, the international community, both public and private, joins in the determination to create jobs and strengthen the country's economy to provide a sustainable, improved life for all Haitians.