Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter


November 21, 1999

Volume III, Number 3

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

"It's time to put the border in the global picture"

MacArthur grant for local NGO trainings by Network members

ILRF grants for local NGO trainings in Asia & Central America

Hesperian H&S manual table of contents proposed

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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As many of you have noticed, we missed the third quarter issue of the newsletter as the last one was published in June 1999. Finances and work overload are primarily to blame. Our funding from the Challenge Grant of the American Public Health Association ended in June and the new cycle will not begin until January 1, 2000. Also, as explained below, I was travelling this fall in Asia as the Network's work has "gone global" along with the economy and all its effects. We expect to put out four issues of the newsletter in the year 2000.

In September, I spent a week in Jakarta, Indonesia, meeting with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) interested in training projects in the areas of environmental and occupational safety and health, inspection techniques, international labor laws, corporate codes of conduct and monitoring protocols. I traveled with Bama Athreya of the International Labor Rights Fund in Washington, DC, and met with over a dozen major labor, human rights, women's rights and church-sponsored community organizations. I also spent a day in a Korean-run sports shoe factory (7,500 workers producing 600,000 pairs of shoes a month) operated on behalf of Nike.

The trip made clear the lack of any meaningful health and safety regulations and enforcement in Indonesia (to an even greater degree than in Mexico), and the great interest of grassroots groups for capacity-building projects in health and safety similar to what the Network has organized on the US-Mexico border.

To keep up with the Network's rapidly expanding work will be a big challenge for the Network in the coming year. APHA's generous support for the newsletters and web site is coming to close with a third and final grant, which is half the size of the previous two years' grants. The growing number of projects means that the all-volunteer "staff" we have relied on in the last six years to coordinate and publicize activities, will have increasing difficulty keeping up with the work and taking advantage of the skills, time and energy of new Network members.

One of the top priorities in 2000 will be raising money to maintain the publications and web site, and to hire interns or part-time staff to better coordinate the work on the border and in other places on the globe. Any Network members with suggestions, experience and energy for fund-raising should please contact me at the addresses and telephone above to help out.

One immediate request is a voluntary $15 subscription fee for the newsletters. It costs approximately $650 an issue to put out the printed "Border/Line Health & Safety" and its electronic companion. To cover the expense of this issue and two issues next year, we need to raise $1,950 or 130 subscriptions at $15. If you can send in a subscription fee, the Network's volunteer staff will thank you very much, and additional donations would be even more appreciated!

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On the eve of the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, it is more apparent than ever that the global economy works as one and that all parts of it are irrevocably linked to all others. It is time to "end the disconnect" between organizations working for safe working conditions and healthy communities on the US-Mexico border and the labor, student, women's, environmental, human rights and other groups that make up the global "anti-sweatshop" movement.

The maquilas on the border are different only in form, and not in content, from other "sweatshops" around the world producing consumer goods for the US market. However, the Fortune 500's maquiladora plants on the border have not been incorporated into the high-visibility publicity, action campaigns and public debate that has been the case with Nike's Asian plants, Cathy Lee Gifford's Central American contractors, or The Gap's near-slavery Saipan, among many other cases.

Now is the time.

The US-Mexico border region has a history of neglect from governments in both Washington and Mexico City, and often by civil society in both countries as well. However, the campaigns for justice on the US-Mexico border and the global "anti-sweatshop" campaigns have many features in common and a lot to learn from one another. These movements need to reach out to one another, coordinate and integrate their common work for a world where "the race to the bottom" does not consign the vast majority of the world's people to lives spent locked inside factory walls and adjacent poisoned communities.

There are differences between the border and the usual image of "sweatshops." There is a much more diverse range of products made on the border than the apparel, shoes and toys. The border plants are usually directly operated by US-based transnationals rather than indirectly run by local contractors from other Third World countries. Mexico's government makes a nominal effort at promulgating and enforcing workplace regulations, while in countries like Indonesia or China there is no enforcement whatsoever.

But there are many more things in common between the US-Mexico border and the world's other sweatshops:

* all plants are producing primarily for the US market and the corporation's brand image is very important to profitability;

* all workers receive less than subsistence wages for long and frequently unpaid hours of work;

* all workers lack "core labor rights," including freedom of association and freedom from firings and blacklisting;

* workers in both arenas often have to deal with abusive supervisors and managers, including widespread sexual harassment and discrimination;

* workers in both arenas often have to deal with unsafe and unhealthy workplaces, out of compliance with national and international laws, and with corporate managements which have failed to dedicate the necessary human and financial resources for safe work sites;

* all workers have to deal with corrupt governments which disrespect their own and international law, and are often themselves the leading violator of human rights in the country; and

* all workers live in communities increasingly degraded environmentally and which are deprived of the resources needed for safe, healthy development.

The border groups, including the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM) and the Southwest Network for Economic and Environmental Justice (SNEEJ), have a rich history of building multi-national, multi-sectoral alliances of grassroots groups throughout North America. This process is anything but easy, but the US-Mexico border shows it can be done, how best it can be done, and what problems must be recognized and resolved.

The border's workers' groups have also shown that it is possible to build their capacity in areas like workplace health and safety in collaboration with professionals, and to undertake campaigns inside the plants that result in improved conditions. The border groups have also learned how to take advantage of the corporate "codes of conduct," national regulations in Mexico, and the complaint mechanisms of treaties like NAFTA and its "labor side agreement."

On the other hand, the global "anti-sweatshop" movement has become highly skilled in public campaigns and media work that have humbled PR giants like Nike, and have developed increasingly effective links and exchanges between organizations in the producing and in the consuming countries.

The most powerful aspect of the "anti-sweatshop" movement has been its student component on US campuses that has dragged one concession after another out the transnationals. This student movement has already contributed to improved, if still very uneven, conditions in dozens of factories throughout the world.

If the goal of safe workplaces and healthy communities is to be reached on the US-Mexico border, and elsewhere in the global economy, then the border campaigns must become part of the global "anti-sweatshop" movement, and the global campaigns must come to the border.

Many organizations, including our own Network, are already working in both arenas, so integrating and coordinating the work should not be difficult - assuming we recognize the need and opportunities to do so.

The Goliaths are all really the same throughout the global economy, so the Davids in Mexico, China, Haiti, Saipan, as well as the sweatshops of Los Angeles, must all work together as well.

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On November 11th, the Board of Directors of the MacArthur Foundation approved a two-year grant for $93,000 for a series of occupational and environmental health trainings with local non-governmental organizations in Indonesia and southern China. The grant will be administered by the Global Exchange organization in San Francisco, and the coordinators of the project are Dara O'Rourke, recent Ph.D. graduate of UC Berkeley who will be teaching at MIT starting in January, and Garrett Brown, Network coordinator.

The purpose of the grant is to provide technical training and on-site field work in conducting plant inspections on health and safety issues for labor, women's, human rights and environmental groups in these countries. The NGOs may choose to use the trainings as part of the process to become qualified as "independent monitors" under the various schemes proposed to monitor the conduct of transnational companies operating in these countries. Or the local groups may choose the role of "monitors of the monitors" and to also build their capacity to better organize workers in the plants and their communities.

The grant funding begins in January 2000, and the first tasks will be consolidating partnerships with local NGOs in these countries, conducting a thorough needs assessment for the topics and activities of the trainings, and then developing the curriculum and materials. The training instructors will be a mix of international professionals and local experts. The field work will be done in the giant sports shoe factories whose operators have promised access for training exercises of this type.

Other members of the Network who are interested in the needs assessment, curriculum development or instruction phases of this project, should please contact Garrett Brown.

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The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) has asked our Network to assist in conducting trainings with local NGOs in various countries in Asia and Central America. The IRLF grants, separate from the MacArthur Foundation grant described above, have been provided by 22 universities and by the U.S. Agency for International Development (US AID). The trainings will cover a wide range of topics, including occupational safety and health, wages and hours, workplace discrimination, corporate codes of conduct, national and international labor laws. The trainings are slated for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, and Taiwan. Other countries may be included in the future, depending on available resources.

One goal of the IRLF workshops is to provide local NGOs with the training required to become "monitors" certified under the "Fair Labor Association" which grew out of the White House "Apparel Industry Partnership." Groups participating in the trainings, however, are not required to become FLA monitors. The participating NGOs, self-selected for this project, will be free to use the information and newly-acquired skills in any way they see fit.

Our Network's contribution to the IRLF project will be in conducting the occupational safety and health sessions of the overall series. In Indonesia, it is likely that the MacArthur and IRLF grant activities will be coordinated and will interweave with one another. In the other countries, the ILRF and local partners will be setting the agenda.

These trainings will also begin in early 2000 and much work remains to be done with curriculum and materials development. Any Network member interesting in participating in this project should contact coordinator Garrett Brown.

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A draft Table of Contents has been proposed for the Hesperian Foundation's "Export Processing Zone Workers' Health and Safety Manual" following a lengthy needs assessment process involving grassroots groups and occupational health professionals around the world. The draft table of contents has been sent, with a summary of the needs assessment survey responses, back to the grassroots groups and professionals for another round of critique and suggestions. Hesperian's method of work includes repeated circulation of draft texts to the target audience for their review and input.

At the same time, work is beginning on a draft chapter on workplace hazards and controls related to the clothing/garment/apparel industry. This chapter will be used as a prototype for chapters on other industries such as footwear, auto parts, toys and light assembly. It will also be used for fund-raising purposes as example of the book's approach and content.

Volunteers are needed for acting as liaisons with grassroots groups and other professionals, and for working on the draft chapter on the garment industry. Please contact Todd Jailer at Hesperian ( or Garrett Brown ( if you are interested in these tasks.

Network members who have already volunteered to work on this project should have received a mailing with the draft table of contents and needs assessment summary. If this information did not arrive, please contact Todd Jailer or Garrett Brown to receive copies.

Work on this manual will accelerate in 2000, after two slow initial years, as the Hesperian Foundation will be adding a full-time staffer whose primary responsibility will be working on this project. In addition, Hesperian has already begun fund-raising for publishing the manual and initial responses from several foundations have been favorable.

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- The Network gratefully acknowledges and thanks the American Public Health Association for a third "Challenge Grant" of $1,000 to support the publication of this newsletter and maintain the Network's website. Dr. Tom Robins, past chair of APHA's Occupational Health & Safety Section, played a key role in supporting the Network's proposal - many thanks!

- A half-dozen members of the Network met in Chicago on November 8th at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association. The growth of the Network's activities to far-flung reaches of the globe were discussed, and several excellent suggestions were made for looking for "institutional resources" in universities in the US and Latin America, as well as in professional organizations in those countries. Now the challenge is to follow up on the suggestions!

- New Solutions, volume 9, number 1 (1999), ran the text of Network coordinator Garrett Brown's February 1998 testimony before the US National Administrative Office hearing in San Diego, CA, investigating health and safety at the Tijuana, Mexico facility of the Han Young company.

- The October/December 1999 issue (volume 5, number 4) of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health carries a report authored by Dr. Tim Takaro of the University of Washington and four others summarizing the results of a survey of maquiladora workers in Tijuana and Tecate, Mexico, on their working conditions conducted by the CAFOR organization in Tijuana.

- The last a of a five-part series on Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco will held be January 29 to February 3, 2000. The series, coordinated by Dr. Joseph LaDou, has made special efforts to incorporate participants from Mexico and other countries, including a scholarship program. For more information please call 415-476-4951 or email "".

- The "First Conference on Occupational and Environmental Health under the Framework of Integration of the Americas" will be held in Morelia, Mexico, August 13-16, 2000. The conference is being coordinated by the Department of Work Environment at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell with co-sponsorship of two Mexican universities, the University of Illinois-Chicago, and New Solutions. For information on the conference, please contact Carlos Eduardo Siquiera at "".

- The Interhemispheric Resource Center in New Mexico has revamped its excellent electronic information center, formerly known as INCITRA and now called BIOS (Border Information and Outreach Service). The BIOS website ("") is a gold mine of information, contacts and resources on the US-Mexico border region.

- The excellent Britain-based publications "Workers' Health International Newsletter" (WHIN) and "Hazards" magazine have appealed for support in the face of serious financial troubles. It would be a great loss if these publications were forced to close. Please consider taking out a subscription ($25 for each publication) and/or making a donation to WHIN, PO Box 199, Sheffield S1 4YL, England, or contact editor Rory O'Neill at .

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- The Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (LOSH) at UCLA has just published the second edition of "La Fuente Obrera," a sourcebook for Spanish-language health and safety materials for workers and health professionals. The well-organized compendium of Spanish-language materials, compiled by Sonia Alas, is an essential resource and update of the 1990 first edition. For information on the book, please contact Sonia Alas at 310-794-5964.

- Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch has published in time for the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle in late November, a new book "WTO - Whose Trade Organization?" outlining the adverse impact on environmental and occupational health of trade dispute rulings by this secretive, non-elected body in both the developed and developing worlds. For more information, please see .

- Canada's Maquila Solidarity Network has published a 145-page report entitled "Policy Options to Improve Standards for Garment Workers in Canada and Internationally." It's available for free from "Status of Women Canada" at or from the Network's website at . The MSN in Canada has also just issued a 15-page report on "Codes of Conduct: From Corporate Responsibility to Social Accountability."

- Europe's Clean Clothes Campaign issued their Newsletter No. 11 in August 1999 with updates on the European anti-sweatshop movement and code of conduct-related development. The newsletter is available on their website: .

- A debate about the SA8000 monitoring system has been launched with a critical report entitled "No Illusions, Against the Global Cosmetic SA8000" by the Labour Rights in China (LARIC) group in Hong Kong (contact: The Council on Economic Priorities (CEP), which coordinates the SA8000 system, responded with "Comments and Corrections Regarding the SA8000 System" and "Clarifying the SA8000 Verification System" (contact: info@cepaa.orgh).

- "Free Markets, Open Societies, Closed Borders? - Trends in International Migration and Immigration Policy in the Americas," 284-page book by Max J. Castro; Lynne Rienner Publishers, 303-444-6684 or their website: .

- "Kidnappings, Homicides, Disappearances and Torture: The Case of the Tamaulipas Border," report by the Center for Border Studies and the Promotion of Human Rights (CEFPROHAC); phone (89) 22-49-22 or email: .

- "Sustainable Development in San Diego-Tijuana: Environmental, Social, and Economic Implications of Interdependence;" edited by Mark J. Spalding at the Center for US-Mexican Studies at the University of California at San Diego; phone (619) 534-1160 or email: .

- "US-Mexico Border: Issues and Challenges Confronting the United States and Mexico;" report by the General Accounting Office of the US Congress, with a follow-up report in fall 1999.

- "La Linea: Gender, Labor and Environmental Justice on the US-Mexico Border," special feature by Corporate Watch in July 1999 posted on their website: .

- There are a number of new electronic resources which are worth a look-see at:

1) New Spanish-language listserve on occupational and environmental health in Latin America and the Caribbean:

2) New listserve "Focus on the Corporation" which distributes the weekly column of Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman of the Multinational Monitor magazine:

3) New weekly "business and human rights news service" from World Monitors ($25 per month) at:

4) Planning group for the "World's First Global Cyber Conference on Occupational Safety and Health" at:

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END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. III, NO. 3 - November 22, 1999