Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter


March 26, 2000

Volume IV, Number 1

Webmaster: Heather Block ("")

Editor & Coordinator: Garrett Brown ("")

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

510-558-1014 (voice)



Who We Are

Letter from the Coordinator

Jakarta Training with NGOs & Unions Set For June 2000

Auto Union Sponsored Trainings Continue on the US-Mexico Border

Hong Kong Discussions Evaluate Possible South China Trainings

AIHA To Establish Task Force on Global Sweatshops

Network Activities At the May AIHC&E in Orlando, Florida

Quote of the Month

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, toxicologists, epidemiologists, 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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Workplace health and safety in the global economy has begun to appear on the radar screens of increasing numbers of consumers in the developed world and workers in the developing world since the WTO meeting Seattle last December, the current US debate about "most favored nation" status for China, and the upcoming meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC, in April.

This is the moment for occupational health professionals to raise the visibility of this issue higher still and to push forward with a comprehensive agenda to protect all of the world's workers. I say this fully realizing that while the opportunities are large, so are the obstacles to moving toward safe and healthful workplaces throughout the world.

In the developing world (the producers in the global production chain), there are big institutional, economic and political obstacles.

In most producing countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas, there are limited or very general regulations related to occupational hygiene and workplace safety. In most locales, there is no meaningful enforcement of the regulations that do exist, in large measure because the countries' governments do not have the trained personnel and the financial resources for equipment and materials to enforce their own laws. Often "workplace inspections" are simply a mechanism for local graft and corruption.

The "big picture" problem in producing countries like Mexico or Indonesia is that there is simply no political will to enforce environmental or occupational regulations. These countries are heavily indebted to both private banks (primarily US banks) and international institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. To repay the staggering interest (let alone the principal) of these debts, countries must have foreign investment and income. So any policy that "discourages foreign investment," such as enforcement of workplace health and safety rules, is a political impossibility and economic suicide.

Local governments are also under orders from the international creditors cut to the bone all public spending - including for labor inspectors, environmental enforcement activities, or support for university-based occupational hygiene programs that could begin to generate a local professional base. Workers in most producing countries, and particularly "migrant workers" brought in from other regions or other countries, are desperate for work and are forced to accept whatever pay and conditions are offered.

Many US-based transnationals have taken advantage of this situation to extract tax breaks, public subsidies, waivers from minimum wage laws, non-enforcement of regulations from local governments under the threat that they will move their operations to other developing countries willing to succumb to these forms of "economic blackmail."

Moreover, the mangers of the production facilities (such as for sports shoes, garment or toy plants in Asia) are often contractors from other developing countries and not from the US-based transnationals themselves. Thus Korean or Taiwanese managers operating in China, Indonesia or Vietnam receive a flat fee from retailers such as Nike or Reebok for their products, and any improvements in working conditions and wages has to come out of the contractors' own pockets. Little wonder then that they are reluctant or unwilling to spend money to protect a transient workforce whose language, customs and culture they do not share.

In a very real sense, it is the policies of the US and international financial institutions, and the practices of the US-based transnationals, that bear the responsibility for creating the political and economic environment in producing countries that works against widespread improvements in working conditions. It has been primarily the "scandal campaigns" of consumers against particular companies and countries that has generated the little progress, plant by plant, that has been registered to date.

In the developed countries (the consuming end of the global production chain), there are also big obstacles.

The global capitalist economy has generated a ferocious competition between corporations to cut costs and produce the largest possible short-term financial results. The recent stock price bloodbath experienced by Proctor & Gamble for failing to meet the "earnings expectations" of Wall Street analysts demonstrates the penalty for even huge corporations who fail to extract the last measure of profit from their operations.

Moreover, even responsible corporations looking to "do the right thing" in labor practices and working conditions, face competitors who could care less about these issues, or who rely on well-oiled public relations campaigns instead of fully-staffed, well-funded EH&S programs. Thus the "race to the bottom" wins every time and it is brutally enforced by the "invisible hand" of the global market and the financial analysts of Wall Street.

There are, of course, companies that are making a genuine effort to improve working conditions and labor practices in their own plants, and in those of their contractors, around the world. However, these efforts face the serious challenges previously described: lack of trained personnel and other resources locally; high turnover rates and low educational levels of the workers and first-line supervisors; indifferent or hostile managements actually running the plant; financial restraints of the transnationals for spending and personnel in these areas. These problems are intimately related, of course, to the "big picture" issues described above.

Notwithstanding these daunting challenges, the opportunities for making safer, healthier workplaces around the globe, in fact, have never been better.

The fact that it is a global economy where producers and consumers now have direct links to one another, and where workers in many parts of the world are now working for the same employer, means that "corporate campaigns" to improve conditions in that employer's plants, and indirectly throughout a given industry, can be more effective than ever.

The consolidation of ever-larger corporations dominating the world economy means that there are resources available for workplace improvements and that, if taken seriously, "one global standard" for safe and healthful plants throughout the world at all corporate facilities could be more easily accomplished.

The young activists of the "anti-sweatshop" movement (especially on campus) are not going away, and there is a growing number of workers and their organizations in the producing countries who are demanding better conditions, despite their need for a job.

Members of our Network have a particular responsibility and opportunity, given the nature of our profession, to make a unique contribution to the movement for safer, more just workplaces in the world. We have the opportunity to call for an "upward harmonization" of regulations and enforcement that incorporates the state of the art in scientific knowledge, the best practices of industry and the profession, and implementation of the "precautionary principle" to protect workers and their communities, which is our primary responsibility.

Specific tasks Network members might consider are the following:

* As citizens, push our government to include an upward harmonization approach to all trade and investment treaties and national legislation, and to help transfer health and safety technology and skills to the producing countries;

* As consumers, push the transnationals to mobilize the financial and human resources necessary to ensure safe, healthy and just workplaces in their facilities worldwide;

* As members of professional associations, push for educational and lobbying activities by our associations to support the public policy goals and activities noted above;

* As occupational safety and health managers and professionals working for transnational corporations, push for the company to "do the right thing" in their own and contractors' plants;

* As occupational health professionals, participate in activities organized by our Network and others to support the efforts of local organizations of workers and their families and communities in the producing companies to improve working conditions and labor practices in their countries.

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Twelve Indonesia non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and six trade unions will participate in a four-day occupational health and safety training in Jakarta in June 2000 to build their capacity to identify, evaluate and develop action plans to correct workplace hazards. The training is being funded by a two-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation to build health and safety knowledge and skills among grassroots worker and community groups in Indonesia and southern China.

The participating NGOs include labor rights groups (such as LIPS and Sisbikum), women's organizations (such as APIK and Bakti Pertiwi), human rights groups (such as LBH Jakarta and ELSAM), social research and advocacy organizations (such as Akatiga, YLKI and INFID), and community groups (such as members of the Urban Poor Coalition). Trade unions sending participants from their affiliates and represented plants include SBSI, Perbupas, FNPBI, GSBI and ABG.

The LIPS organization, headed by Fauzi Abdullah, is the local coordinator for the training. Indonesian-based resources, in the form of local trainers and materials in Indonesian from the Jakarta International Labor Organization (ILO) office, will be integrated into the training. In addition to Indonesian labor groups, the Jakarta office of the AFL-CIO's American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS) also will be sending participants.

The team of instructors includes Network Coordinator Garrett Brown, Network members Betty Szudy and Diane Bush from UC Berkeley's Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP), Dara O'Rourke from the faculty of MIT, and Melody Kemp, an Australian occupational hygienist who has lived and worked in Indonesia for 10 years.

The training will consist of three-days of classroom activities and a full day on site at one of the giant sports shoe factories surrounding Jakarta. The training's methodology, as has long been the practice with the Network's Mexican border trainings, will be interactive and participatory. The training materials - a binder for the training itself and a second binder of Indonesian and global resources - will be translated beforehand into Indonesian and can be used in future trainings put on by the participating local organizations themselves.

An intensive written and oral needs assessment process has been conducted since last September to ensure that the participating organizations are the ones who set the goals and agenda for the training.

This project has no connection to the Fair Labor Association or other monitoring schemes, and its goal is to build the capacity of local worker and community organizations to advance their understanding of workplace health and safety issues. The participating organizations themselves will decide how they use the information and skills developed in the training project, which could include applying to be "independent monitors" under various monitoring schemes, or becoming a "monitor of the monitors," or integrating health and safety issues into their local organizing and international work, or all of the above.

The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF), which is sponsoring a related series of trainings in Indonesia under a separate grant, is contributing financial and key logistical support for the June health and safety training. UC Berkeley's LOHP is also donating staff time and in-kind support for the June session.

An important component of the training will be "train the trainer" information and activities so that this 35-person training will have a multiplier effect in generating other locally-conducted trainings with workers in Indonesia.

Future health and safety trainings involving this team of international instructors may include similar activities in Central and East Java in Indonesia, more in-depth activities with trainers for the local organizations, and ongoing technical assistance on both educational and workplace safety issues.

Network members interested in volunteering for current and future work on this Asia Project of the Network should contact coordinator Garrett Brown at

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Three health and safety trainings with Mexican maquiladora workers in February and March were organized and conducted on the border by the United Auto Workers (UAW) and Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) in collaboration with the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM) and CILAS organization in Mexico City.

February 25-27th UAW ergonomics expert Lida Orta-Anes facilitated three-days of training on ergonomics in Ciudad Juarez with 30 participants from local maquila worker organizations including Pastoral Juvenil Obrero (PJO), CETLAC, CISO, Campo Obrero and FEMAP. The training consisted of a one-day "refresher" course for worker-trainers conducted by Orta-Anes, and then two days of worker training conducted by the worker-trainers with Orta-Anes acting only as a resource person.

On March 10-12th, a similar sequence of ergonomics training was conducted in Reynosa by Pamela Vossenas, a consultant from the UAW health and safety department. Thirty participants from the Comite Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO), PJO, FUTURO and the Comite de Apoyo attended the three-day session. The first day was again a "refresher" course for worker-trainers who then went on to conduct the two-day training for maquila workers with Vossenas-Fernandez acting as a resource person.

A four-day training on popular education and effective training techniques was conducted March 24-27th in Nuevo Laredo with instructors from the CAW and CILAS organizations. Twenty-five participants from the PJO, FUTURO, CETLAC, Campo Obrero and Comite de Apoyo organizations received training from Jennifer Cooper of the CAW and Norma Malagon from CILAS. This intensive 40-hour course was designed to build the skills of local worker-trainers who are conducting their own sessions on health and safety, wage and hour, and workers' rights seminars all along the border.

An evaluation of these trainings and plans for future ones, all funded by the UAW and CAW, are on the agenda for the annual CJM meeting in Tijuana, May 25-28th. Network members who speak Spanish and have expertise to offer for these kinds of grassroots trainings should contact Network Coordinator Garrett Brown.

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The Network's Asia project also aims to build the capacity of worker and community organizations in Hong Kong and southern China to evaluate and improve the environmental, health, and safety conditions in factories operated there by multinational corporations. The China project has goals similar to the Indonesian trainings and will be driven by the needs and strategies of local groups.

However, the situation in China is quite different than Indonesia. There are currently no independent NGOs or member-run trade unions operating in China. This presents significant challenges for developing grassroots monitoring initiatives. Nonetheless there is a great need for raising the visibility of occupational safety and health and environmental issues, and increasing the knowledge and skills of pro-worker organizations, in "special economic zones" in China where much of the world's consumers goods are being produced.

Our team is exploring a number of options for ways to advance monitoring and worker empowerment in China by turning to local experts and activists to guide us on these issues. In early March, Network Coordinator Garrett Brown and Betty Szudy of the Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley held a round of preliminary discussions in Hong Kong.

Brown and Szudy met with leaders of the Asia Monitor Resource Center, the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, and the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims, organizations working in both Hong Kong and southern China. They also met with leading occupational safety and health professionals in the Labour Department of the Hong Kong government and at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology in Clear Water Bay. Discussions were also held in Hong Kong with the director of Reebok's Human Rights Program, and the head of Social and Environmental Compliance for Adidas. These companies, as well as Nike, have agreed to participate in possible future trainings on health and safety issues.

The goal of these discussions is to answer several questions: First, what is the best way to empower workers on environmental and workplace health and safety issues? Second, what is the best strategy for evaluating conditions inside multinational factories operating in China, and can monitoring be done at all in China? Given the absence of independent worker organizations in China, there are few obvious answers to these questions. The first phase of our project thus seeks to evaluate different strategies and options on these issues.

Following the training in Jakarta in June, we are planning another visit to Hong Kong and southern China to further discuss different possibilities with local NGOs, university researchers, and government officials. Any suggestions and ideas from Network members with experience working on these issues in China would be much appreciated.

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The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) is in the process of establishing a Task Force to examine issues related to occupational safety and health in "sweatshops" and other facilities producing consumer goods for the global economy.

The Task Force, to be officially established in April for a six-month term, will consist of members from the International Affairs, Management and Social Concerns committees of the Association. Network Coordinator Garrett Brown, a member of both the AIHA International Affairs and Social Concerns committees, has been asked to chair the group.

Among the issues to be considered by the Task Force are corporate "codes of conduct" for production facilities in the developing world, monitoring schemes such as the Fair Labor Association or SA 8000, "independent monitoring" activities (including health and safety audits) performed by accounting firms such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young, and how the AIHA and industrial hygiene professionals can impact the ongoing debate.

A "White Paper" on these issues and policy recommendations to the AIHA Board of Directors on national legislation, international trade and investment treaties, and professional initiatives, are the anticipated outcome of the Task Force's work between now and the fall.

The Task Force may also hold a "public hearing" at the AIHC&E gathering in Orlando, Florida, May 22nd-25th to solicit the opinions of conference participants regarding these issues. Network members attending the conference should check their programs and be sure to participate in the open meeting.

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A high-profile panel on occupational health and safety in US transnational corporations' production facilities in the developing world will take place on Monday, May 22nd, in Orlando, FL, the first day of the annual American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exposition (AIHC&E).

Speakers on the two-hour roundtable include Nike's global health and safety manager Colleen Crawford and Mattel's worldwide health and safety manager Gregg Clark, along with Trim Bissell, national coordinator of the Campaign for Labor Rights organization and Yanick Etienne, coordinator of the Batay Ouvriye workers organization in Port-o-Prince, Haiti. The facilitator of the panel will be Network Coordinator Garrett Brown.

Roundtable #205, "Health and Safety Monitoring in Third World Production Facilities: Why, Who and How," is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 12 noon on Monday, May 22nd, right after the opening general session.

For the second year in a row, the Network will have a booth in the exhibition area of the AIHC&E gathering. Generously donated again by AIHA headquarters, the table will be shared with the Social Concerns Committee of AIHA. Don't forget to stop by the booth and say hello!

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"I'm sympathetic with all these negative feelings. But one of the things that spawns these kind of negative feelings is these folks feel like they've been shut out. They think the WTO is some rich guys' club where people get in and talk in funny language, and use words nobody understands, and make a bunch of rules that help the people that already have, and stick it to the people that have not." -- President Bill Clinton speaking about critics of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

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- The annual meeting of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM) will be held May 25-28th in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. The 10-year-old tri-national coalition includes over 100 labor, environmental, religious, human rights and community organizations from the US-Mexico border region and throughout North America. The annual gathering is an excellent way of learning the latest about occupational and environmental health on the border. For details, contact the CJM office in San Antonio, TX, at 210-732-8957 or at

- The U.S. National Administrative Office (NAO) of the NAFTA labor side agreement, housed at the Department of Labor's Bureau of International Affairs in Washington, D.C., will gain a new staff member in Tina Faulkner in mid-April. Tina was a research associate at the Interhemispheric Resource Center in New Mexico for several years and part of their top-notch team of reporters and analysts. She will be working on submissions to the NAO on Mexican labor issues and the ongoing "cooperative activities" between the NAO offices in Mexico City, Washington and Ottawa. Good luck, Tina!

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- "Life, Death and In-Between on the U.S.-Mexico Border: Asi es la vida," edited by Martha Oehmke Loustaunau and Mary Sanchez-Bane; available by calling 915-585-7612, email:; or website:

- "Exploitation or Choice: Exploring the relative attractiveness of employment in the maquiladoras," John Sargent and Linda Matthews; Journal of Business Ethics, V. 18 (1999): 213-227.

- "Globalization from below; Labour internationalism under NAFTA," Barry Carr; International Social Science Journal (UNESCO); V. 51, No. 1 (March 1999): 49-59.

- "Sustainable Development in San Diego-Tijuana: Environmental, Social and Economic Implications of Interdependence," Mark J. Spaulding, editor; Center for US-Mexican Studies, University of California - San Diego; 99 pages; 1999.

- "Environmental Education Resources on the US-Mexico Border." Website database of the Environmental Education Exchange at

- "Going Once, Going Twice: Labour Protection in Latin American Neo-Liberal Economies," 127-page report by the Canadian Labour Congress; available by calling 613-526-7407; email:; or download the document at

- "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, Solutions for a Sold Planet" Naomi Klein, Knopf Canada, 334 pages, $36.

- "Focus on the Corporation," moderated list-serve which distributes the weekly column co-authored by Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, and Robert Weissman, editor of Multinational Monitor magazine; to subscribe send an email message to

- "Harmonization Alert" newsletter published by Public Citizen "seeks to promote open and accountable policy-making relating to public health, natural resources, consumer safety, and economic justice in the era of globalization;" available by calling 202-546-4996, email:, and website:

- Free, daily "Global Intelligence Updates" from Stratfor, Inc. in Austin, TX; by clicking on

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END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. IV, NO. 1 - March 26, 2000