In 1997 the unemployment rate was estimated at 70 percent. Some Haitians have jobs in the formal sector. Yet most are low-wage manufacturing jobs where conditions are basic and trade unions discouraged. International agencies have cited many cases of abusive practices by managers and employers in this sector, where women are employed to stitch clothing or assemble toys for export. Conditions in agriculture are no better, and most small farmers work long hours in highly primitive conditions to produce a precarious livelihood for their families.
The informal sector encompasses almost every area of economic activity from street selling and garbage recycling to taxi driving and handicraft manufacturing. Nearly all this activity is unregulated, and workers have no rights or security whatsoever. There are no effective laws to protect workers' rights, and trade unions are small and divided. The most powerful organizations are those neighborhood or peasant groups which are usually linked to Fanmi Lavalas and which sometimes take militant action against exploiters.