Statement of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras Regarding the June 11, 2002, "Joint Declaration" of the US and Mexican Governments on the Autotrim/Customtrim case
June 19, 2002
The Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras strongly criticizes the June 11th "Ministerial Consultations Joint Declaration" of the U.S. and Mexican Departments of Labor ending the worker health and safety complaint filed under NAFTA against dangerous working conditions in two "maquiladora" assembly plants on the US-Mexico border, Custom Trim and Auto Trim plants, owned by Breed Technologies based in Florida.
"This 'Declaration' - not even a legally binding agreement - is just the latest example of 'all talk and no action' remedies of the NAFTA labor side agreement for workers facing unsafe and unhealthy conditions in the maquilas," stated Monica Shurtman a legal adviser of the maquiladora workers.
"The Declaration ignores the specific list of recommendations the injured workers made to the US and Mexican governments in May and July of 2001. It continues to marginalize the workers and prevent them from participation. It proposes nothing more than 'exchanges of information' and 'discussion and review of issues' without any deadlines, while Breed Technologies' workers continue to be injured on the job," Shurtman said.
CJM, one of the organizations which brought about the case, demands that the proposed "Binational Occupational Safety and Health Working Group" incorporate representatives of the workers who submitted the complaint as well as technical experts who enjoy the confidence of the workers. ãCJM members vowed to continue to work with the 35 members of Congress who wrote US Labor Secretary Elaine Chao on May 7th demanding meaningful action to enforce labor rights in the maquiladoras, Stated Sarah Anderson, CJM member from the Institute for Policy Studies.
The proposed "resolution" of the NAFTA complaint is the latest attempt by the governments involved to marginalize the injured workers at Breed who have been diligently complying with every twist and turn of Mexican regulations and the byzantine NAFTA side agreement protocols since April 1997 - five years of patient efforts. "The proposed 'final remedy' gives the workers no voice and no way to participate in the process," said Martha Ojeda, Executive Director of the more than 200-member coalition of community, labor, religious and environment groups in the three NAFTA countries.
The US-Mexico declaration proposes nothing more than yet another round of in-house "discussions" between the two government bureaucracies, which may go on for years and end without taking any actions whatsoever. This is exactly what happened with a similar NAFTA side agreement health and safety complaint at the Han Young plant in Tijuana.
The June 11th declaration, obviously timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the International Labor Organization and to mollify Congressional critics, did not implement the detailed short- and long-term recommendations for three Mexican government agencies contained in the May and July 2001 letters from the submitters of the July 2000 complaint. These recommendations included proposals for re-evaluation of injured workers previously denied workers compensation; re-inspection of the two plants (Autotrim in Matamoros and Customtrim/Breed Mexicana in Valle Hermoso) by Mexican safety inspectors and verification of corrective actions; and improved medical surveillance and treatment.
"Instead of specific, effective action to improve conditions at Autotrim and Customtrim, and throughout the maquilas on the border, the injured workers are promised more 'chats' between government officials whose refusal to listen and to act was the exact basis of the complaint," Ojeda pointed out. "This 'Joint Declaration' is a charade and a disgrace - and it demonstrates the complete failure of the NAFTA side agreements to protect workers. If NAFTA is the 'success story' and model for the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas trade agreement, working people in the Americas are in serious danger," she added.
The Autotrim/Customtrim complaint was originally filed precisely because the Mexican government had ignored detailed written complaints submitted by the workers in 1998 and 1999. The US Labor Department issued its report in April 2001 confirming and verifying the charges that the Mexican government had persistently failed to enforce its own regulations. Two experts from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) inspected the two factories in January 2001 and issued a report in March 2001, again confirming the hazards and injuries described by the Breed Technology workers in their complaint.
In December 2001, the workers wrote to Secretary Chao demanding that an "Evaluation Committee of Experts" (ECE) be formed to investigate the reason for Mexico's persistent failure to enforce its workplace standards. Chao refused to convene an ECE in her February 2002 response. In May 2002, 35 members of Congress lead by Congressman George Miller (D-CA) wrote Secretary Chao urging effective action, including the establishment of an ECE. An ECE, which has never been convened in any of the 24 complaints filed under the NAFTA labor side agreement (known as the "NAALC"), is the next step after ministerial consultations leading to possible monetary trade sanctions against Mexico.
The Han Young complaint was filed in October 1997; its allegations were confirmed by the US Labor Department in August 1998, "ministerial consultations" concluded in May 2000 (21 months later) with an agreement to hold additional discussions through August 2001 (15 months later). As of June 2002, 56 months after the Han Young complaint was filed, not a single action has been taken to improve health and safety enforcement in Tijuana, and the submitters of the Han Young complaint have never been informed of any result of the government-to-government "exchanges."