Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter

June 28, 1999

Volume III, Number 2

Webmaster: Peter Dillard ("")

Editor & Coordinator: Garrett Brown ("")

P.O. Box 124, Berkeley, CA 94701-0124

510-558-1014 (voice)



Who We Are

Letter from the Coordinator

Caucus Formed in AIHA and ACGIH

Union-Supported H&S Trainings Begin With CJM

CJM Health & Safety Committee Meets at Annual Meeting

Hesperian H&S Manual Moves into Next Phase

Other Border Trainings Underway

Update of NAO Complaints at Han Young and ITAPSA

Networking Notes

New Resources




The "Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network" is a volunteer network of 400 occupational health and safety professionals who have placed their names on a resource list to provide information, technical assistance and on-site instruction regarding workplace hazards in the over 4,000 "maquiladora" (foreign-owned assembly) plants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Network members, including industrial hygienists, occupational physicians and nurses, and health educators among others, are donating their time and expertise to create safer and healthier working conditions for the over one million maquiladora workers employed by primarily U.S.-owned transnational corporations along Mexico's northern border from Matamoros to Tijuana. The Support Network is not designed to generate, nor is it intended to create, business opportunities for private consultants or other for-profit enterprises. On the contrary, Network participants will be donating their time and knowledge pro bono to border area workers and professional associations.

The Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network was launched in October 1993 at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA). It includes occupational health specialists from Canada, Mexico and the United States who are active in the APHA, American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), National Safety Council (NSC) and the 25 local grassroots Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) groups in the U.S. and Canada. The Support Network is continuously seeking more health and safety professionals and activists to join the network, as well as looking for more border community organizations who can make use of the information and technical assistance offered. Please join us!

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Greetings to all and I hope your summer has started out well! It's been a very busy spring on this end, culminating with trips to the American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exhibition in Toronto, Canada, and to the annual meeting of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM) in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, both in June.

The formation of an ongoing "Global Issues Caucus" within two of the key occupational health and safety professional organizations, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), is a major step forward in bring the issue of occupational and environmental health in the global economy to the fore. As the "globalization" process expands and accelerates, there is a very real danger that health and safety of workers and their communities will be significantly weakened by trade and investment treaties, as well as by lax or non-existent enforcement by governments desperate to please trans-national corporations.

The adverse impact of globalization on the setting and enforcement of health protective regulations and practices in North America, and throughout the world, has been a growing concern to many professionals, both for professional and ethical reasons. It is this concern which generated such an interested response to the activities of Network members at the Toronto conference.

The new caucus offers the opportunity to raise these issues in an organized fashion in two of the premier organizations in the field. For more information on the caucus and its activities please contact Jim Albers, a member of the six-person steering committee, at "".

Up to now, the focus of the Network's activities has been on the US-Mexico border and the 4,000 maquilas operating there. In the last several months, I have been involved in occupational health and safety issues as they relate to plants in Asia run by US-based trans-national corporations.

I have been working with Dara O'Rourke of the Energy Resources Group at the University of California at Berkeley to conduct an independent audit of a Nike sports shoe factory in Vietnam. We have issued two public reports on this effort, which has been covered by the "New York Times," among other media. We are currently engaged in discussions with Nike about a second project of doing occupational and environmental health audits, and capacity-building trainings with grassroots worker/community organizations, in Indonesia and southern China.

I have also worked with the Global Exchange organization in San Francisco which is one of the plaintiffs in a $1 billion lawsuit against garment manufacturers operating plants on the island of Saipan, Commonwealth of Northern Marinas Islands. It is likely that any settlement of the lawsuits (there are three inter-related suits pending in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco) will involve development of a compliance plan for improving working conditions in the island's garment factories.

In addition, I have been assisting students and anti-sweatshop organizations trying to develop a implementation and compliance plan for US universities attempting to monitor their "codes of conduct" for licensees producing university-logo products.

These efforts are very likely to continue, which will impact the time available to me for the Network's US-Mexico border activities. The Network is an all-volunteer effort at this point, so my current Network work is done at night and on weekends as it is now anyhow. It is my intention to continue with all of this work to the best of my ability.

Network members are invited to help me with these Asia-related efforts, as well as the Network's ongoing US-Mexico border projects. Information about the typical hazards of garment and sports shoe manufacture; occupational health contacts in Saipan, Indonesia or South China; and suggestions for developing standardized inspection protocols and materials, would all be much appreciated. At some point, the Network needs a comprehensive fund-raising plan, and people to carry it out, so that all these activities can be sustainable over the long term.

There is a world of work that needs to be done out there, and I am more than happy to "share the wealth" of projects that have fallen into my lap! Please don't hesitate to contact me at "" or 510-558-1014 if you have energy, ideas and free time.

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More than 45 industrial hygienists attending the American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exposition (AIHC&E) in Toronto, Canada, came together on June 8th to form an ongoing "Global Issues Caucus" in the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).

The caucus is based on support for a statement, "Strengthening OEH&S Protections in a Global Economy," that was circulated for several months before the conference and signed by 75 leaders and active members of the two organizations. The statement calls on the leaderships of the two industrial hygiene organizations to "only support OEH&S legislation and regulations that maintain or expand protections of workplace and environmental health and safety" and to "only support regional and international trade and investment agreements and treaties which promote and facilitate the 'upward harmonization' of occupational and environmental health and safety."

The Global Issues Caucus decided to circulate a petition among AIHA members to require the Board of Directors, as per the organization's by-laws, to conduct a membership mail-in referendum on the issues raised by the circulated statement. The caucus may in the future run a slate a candidates for the Board of Directors for either or both organizations.

AIHC&E participants attending the caucus' founding meeting elected a six-person steering committee, including members of both AIHA and ACGIH. Two of the steering committee members, Kit Galvin and Jim Albers, met with AIHA President Jim Rock on Thursday, June 10th at the conference to discuss the caucus' formation and goals.

To obtain a copy of the founding statement or get more information about the caucus, please contact steering committee member Jim Albers at "".

Our Network had a booth, shared with AIHA's Social Concerns Committee, in the exhibition hall of AIHC&E. The booth was provided without charge by AIHA and the Network gratefully acknowledges AIHA's generosity. More than a half-dozen Network members staffed the booth over the three-day exhibition period. Dozens of AIHC&E participants stopped by the table to pick up literature and sign up for the Network.

This year it seemed that an increasing number of AIHA and ACGIH members have recently been assigned responsibility for their employers' maquiladora plants on the border. Many of these OEH&S managers expressed shock and concern about living and working conditions on the border following their first trips to evaluate their new responsibilities.

Network members participated in a large number of roundtable and technical sessions at the AIHC&E, whose theme this year was "Going Global." The themes of their presentations included the issues of upward or downward "harmonization" of OEH&S regulations and enforcement in the global economy, and how communities and workers can defend themselves in an economy and in political systems dominated by ever-larger, more powerful trans-national corporations.

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This spring the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM) initiated a series of health and safety trainings on the US-Mexico border with support from the (US) United Auto Workers and the Canadian Auto Workers unions.

In May 199 Lida Orta-Anes of the UAW's Health & Safety Department gave a two-day training in Nuevo Laredo on basic ergonomics for 30 grassroots organizers, workers and "health promoters" of CJM member organizations. A follow-up training on ergo issues is planned for the future.

In June 1999, immediately prior to the CJM annual meeting in Ciudad Juarez, Dr. Francisco Mercado of Mexico City's CILAS organization and Linda Delp of UCLA's Labor Occupational Safety and Health (LOSH) program conducted a two-day training on toxicology with 42 participants. This training was financially supported by the CAW's Social Justice Fund.

The CAW is now in the planning stages with CJM to conduct two regional trainings later this summer on the theme of "train the trainers." The purpose of these trainings of border organizers and health promoters is to increase their skills and experience in passing along to their peers in the maquilas the health and safety information acquired in the ongoing series of border-wide workshops which began in May 1998.

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On June 18th, the Health & Safety Committee of CJM met during the annual meeting of the Coalition in Ciudad Juarez. The committee reviewed the series of five regional and border-wide trainings on hazard recognition, ergonomics, toxicology and training techniques that have been conducted on the border in the last year. In addition to these courses conducted by off-border professionals, grassroots organizations have conducted their own health and safety workshops led by local worker "health promoters." As a result of all these trainings, the CJM and its member organizations have been able to develop a growing number of local worker-health promoters capable of organizing and conducting their own workshops.

The local health promoters have also filed detailed complaints, specifying the exact Mexican regulations violated, with the Mexican government demanding on-site inspections of the maquilas where they work. Local committees of workers at the Custom Trim and Auto Trim plants in Matamoros and Valle Hermoso are working with law students from St. Mary's College in San Antonio, TX, to put the finishing touches on a complaint under the NAFTA labor side agreement charging that the Mexican government has failed to enforce its regulations at the two plants.

At the Ciudad Juarez gathering, the H&S Committee decided to undertake another component -- written resource materials -- of the comprehensive health and safety campaign developed at its January 1999 meeting in Mexico City. In the next year, the committee will try to generate a series of short, low-literacy booklets on key topics related to occupational health and safety in the maquilas. The first topics targeted are ergonomics, toxicology and the Mexican regulations, to be based on the trainings conducted in May and June, with future booklets to deal with noise, ventilation and the mandatory workplace employer-worker health and safety committees.

A survey of all border groups will be conducted to determine what the grassroots groups feel should be the form and content of the booklets and how best to follow up the year's worth of trainings.

Hal Nixon of the Southeast Michigan Committee for Occupational Safety and Health reported on a recent meeting of the 27 COSH groups in the US and Canada. At the COSH meeting, it was decided to form closer relations between COSH groups and the grassroots border organizations of the CJM. The COSH groups will be looking for ways to partner with CJM member groups and to provide equipment, materials and financial support wherever possible.

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The initial "needs assessment" phase of contacting occupational health professionals and grassroots workers organizations throughout the world for their comments and suggestions for the form and contents of the proposed manual designed for workers in the world's "export processing zones" has been completed.

Based on two rounds of needs assessment contacts, a draft table of contents for the manual has been developed. This proposed table of contents will now be circulated to the previously contacted professionals and grassroots organizations for their comments on the specific themes and information of the book. Once the table of contents has been refined, the next stage of producing draft chapters will be begun.

The book's development has been coordinated by Todd Jailer, Publications Director of the Berkeley, CA-based Hesperian Foundation, with a San Francisco Bay Area committee of Network volunteers including Rocio Aguilar, Michele Gonzalez Arroyo, Garrett Brown, David Harrington and Peter Scholz. Network members Anne Bracker and Maggie Robbins have also provided valuable assistance during the needs assessment phase by acting as liaisons to organizations in several parts of the world.

Hesperian Foundation staff have already begun contacting potential funders of the manual and draft grant proposals are being developed.

Network members anywhere in North America are still needed to act as liaisons with professionals and grassroots organizations, and assistance will be need in developing and writing the draft chapters of the manual once the table of contents has been set.

Anyone interested in volunteering for these tasks should please contact Todd Jailer of Hesperian at "" or Network coordinator Garrett Brown at "".

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The Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at the University of California at Berkeley is conducting two occupational health and safety trainings on the US-Mexico border in June and July 1999.

In late June, a training coordinated by Suzanne Teran will be held in Ciudad Juarez with member organizations of the Southwest Network for Economic and Environmental Justice (SNEEJ). The training is part of a border-wide meeting sponsored by SNEEJ involving maquiladora workers and their organizations.

In July, Michele Gonzalez Arroyo of LOHP will facilitate a training in Nuevo Laredo on making and implementing "plans of action" with members of the Comite Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO) organization. This training is a follow-up to a LOHP-CFO training which was held last year.

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A series of "ministerial consultations" between the Secretaries of Labor of the US and Mexican governments is coming to conclusion with regard to health and safety-related complaints filed under the NAFTA process at the Han Young plant in Tijuana and the ITAPSA plant outside Mexico City.

Our Network was one of the signatories of the two complaints filed in 1998 documenting that the Mexican government had failed to enforce existing workplace health and safety regulations at the two plants. Following an investigation of the complaints by the US National Administrative Office (NAO) established by NAFTA, the NAO issued reports in July and August 1998 confirming the allegations made in the two complaints. The US NAO then called for "ministerial consultations." the next phase in the elaborate and protracted complaint procedure of the NAFTA labor side agreement.

After almost a year of on and off negotiations, complicated by a change of labor secretary in the Mexican STPS, an agreement covering both complaints is now reported to be nearing completion. The agreement will consist of a "renewed commitment" to freedom of association rights (the right to organize unions independent of the government) by the Mexican and US governments, and a series of specific activities to address health and safety issues and enforcement in these two plants and throughout Mexico generally.

A similar agreement between the US and Mexican government was reached in the 1997 complaint filed about pregnancy discrimination against Mexican women working in the maquiladoras. The Mexican government promised to prohibit pregnancy discrimination, as it defines discrimination, and a series of joint US-Mexico informational seminars and conferences on the issue of women workers and their health has been initiated.

As soon as the ministerial agreement for Han Young-ITAPSA has been released to the public, Border/Line Health & Safety will bring you the details.

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- Network coordinator Garrett Brown was part of a San Francisco Bay Area committee which organized a four-day tour of the two women leaders of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM) in May. The Bay Area tour was the kick-off of a year-long celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the tr-national coalition. CJM Board President Sister Susan Mika and Executive Director Martha Ojeda spoke to labor, university and community organizations, as well as being interviewed by several English- and Spanish-language media. The tour raised over $4,000 for CJM and established new contacts for the organization in northern California.

- The Campaign for Labor Rights (CLR) has just issued a multi-theme, multi-campaign "Sweatshop Activist Organizing Packet" for local activists. Updated and additional materials will automatically be mailed during the year to everyone who orders the initial packet. The suggested donation for the packet is $10. Order by email (""), phone (541-344-5410) or fax (541-431-0523). Include your postal address and the materials are in hard copy only.

- The next issue of New Solutions journal (Volume 9, Number 1, 1999) will run the testimony of coordinator Garrett Brown before the San Diego, CA, hearing of the US National Administrative Office on February 18, 1998, regarding the health and safety complaint at the Han Young plant in Tijuana. The four-page article is entitled "Failure to Enforce Safety Laws Threatens Lives of Tijuana Workers."

- The "Benjamin Franklin Library" of the US Embassy in Mexico City has just published "Recursos: A directory of U.S. organizations and institutions dedicated to advancing mutual understanding with Mexico." Our Network is among the organizations listed in the 167-page directory.

- Verite Inc., one of the international monitoring organizations conducting company audits of factories producing apparel throughout the world, has begun publishing a quarterly newsletter, "Verite Monitor." Contact: Verite Inc., 49 South Pleasant Street, third floor, Amherst, MA 01002, 413-253-9227.

- The "British Asbestos Newsletter" is a quarterly publication which is distributed to 400 victim support groups, public bodies, lawyers, lawyers, researchers, doctors, academics, environmentalists and other interested individuals. The newsletter's objective is to facilitate communication between plaintiffs' representatives and groups internationally. For more information, contact editor Laurie Kazan-Allen at "".

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- "The Maquiladora Reader: Cross-Border Organizing Since NAFTA," edited by Rachael Kamel and Anya Hoffman; 130 pages, $15, American Friends Service Committee, 1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102-1479; 888-588-2372.

- "Policy Options to Improve Standards for Garment Workers in Canada and Internationally," Lynda Yanz, Bob Jeffcott, Deena Ladd and Joan Atlin; 145 pages, free on website and printed by Status of Women Canada; fax: 613-995-7835; email: "" and at the Maquila Solidarity Network website: "".

- "Mexico 2005: The Challenges of a New Millennium," Michael J. Mazarr; 200 pages, $22; Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS Press, 1800 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20006; fax: 202-775-3199; email: "".

- "Confronting Change: Auto Labor and Lean Production in North America;" International Research Network on Autowork in the Americas; 550 pages, $15; Wayne State University Press; 800-WSU-READ.

- "Free Markets, Open Societies, Closed Borders? - Trends in International Migration and Immigration Policy in the Americas;" edited by Max J. Castro; 284 pages, $27; Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1800 30th Street, Suite 314, Boulder, CO 80301-1026; 303-444-6684; fax: 303-444-0824; web: "".

- "Por la Necesidad de Trabajar" (For the Need to Work); Center for Workers' Education and Community Organizers TV; 40 minute video, Spanish with English subtitles; $15; Center for Workers' Education, 413 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036.

- "An Introduction to the WTO Agreements" (152 pages) and "The WTO Agreements: Deficiencies, Imbalances and Required Changes" (136 pages); Bhagirath Lal Das (former Indian delegate to the GATT); $23; Third World Network, 228 Macalister Road, 10400 Penang, Malaysia; Fax: 011-60-604-2264-505; email: "".

- "The Working Conditions of the Toy Industry in China;" Asia Monitor Resource Centre, Hong Kong; 34 pages (third report on 12 factories in China); March 1999; AMRC email: "amrc@HK.Super.Net".

- "Corporate Predators: The Hunt for Mega-Profits and the Attack on Democracy;" Russell Mohiber and Robert Weissman; 192 pages, $13, Common Courage Press, 800-497-3207; website; "".

- "Cross Border Links: 1998 Fair Trade and Sustainable Development Directory;" Interhemispheric Resource Center; 129 pages, $6; IRC Books Orders, PO Box 4506, Albuquerque, NM 87196; 505-842-8288; email: "".

- "Recursos: A Directory of U.S. Organizations and Institutions Dedicated to Advancing Mutual Understanding with Mexico;" Benjamin Franklin Library, US Embassy, Mexico City; 167 pages; United States Information Service, P.O. Box 3087, Laredo TX 78044-3087.

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END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. III, NO. 2 - June 28, 1999