Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter


October 8, 2003
Volume VII, Number 2

Editor & Coordinator: Garrett Brown (
Webmaster: Heather Block (

P.O. Box 124, Berkeley, CA 94701-0124
510-558-1014 (voice)
510-525-8951 (fax)


Who We Are

Letter from the Coordinator

Central America Training held in Guatemala

Autotrim/Customtrim Supporters Demand Review of NAFTA Experience

CERSSO’s Central American Activities

Canada’s MSN Under Attack By Garment Transnational, WRAP

Focus on Workplace Health & Safety in China

Network Activities Planned for Am Public Health Assoc meeting

United Nations Committee Approves Corporate Accountability Norms

New Electronic Resources on Globalization

Major reports and key articles on Mexico and global sweatshops



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 3,000 "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 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, community organizations 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 20-plus local grassroots Committees 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 worker and community organizations who can make use of the information and technical assistance offered. Please join us!

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LETTER FROM THE COORDINATOR – Garrett Brown – October 2003

Central America has often been looked at as a "back water" between North and South America. In analyzing sweatshops in the global economy, it has been viewed as a particularly vulnerable area for exploitation by the giant transnational corporations and their hard-nosed Korean and Taiwanese contractors. Central America is five small countries with weak economies competing with one another for investment, governments with few labor laws and almost no capacity to enforce the regulations that do exist, and a population desperate for work and with few trade unions and community organizations to protect them.

In the last year or so, however, it has become clear that Central America is becoming a key region where gains in the battle to reduce and end sweatshop conditions can actually be won.

According the business press, not all of the world’s garment industry is going to end up in China when the Multi-Fiber Agreement, which currently sets quotas for countries to send garments to the U.S. market, expires in 2005. Even though wages are higher in Central America than in China or other Asian countries, they are still very low, productivity is high, and the isthmus is much closer to the U.S. market than Asia.

So it appears that the major garment retailers will continue to source in Central America after 2005. Reflecting this reality, a significant number of Korean and Taiwanese subcontractors of the major U.S. brand-name retailers, who already operate plants for these brands in Asia, are opening up or expanding their operations in Central America. Thus all the major players – contractors and brands – are and will be present in Central America.

Several of the major brands, especially those that have been targets of international pressure campaigns to improve working conditions in their contractor factories, are interested in raising the level of working conditions in Central America so as to "level the playing field" with their competitors who have not had to spend the time and money to improve conditions in their contractors’ facilities.

For example, Gap Inc. has proposed a training, capacity-building program with contractors, government ministries and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to improve labor standard enforcement and to share the direct and indirect costs of implementing corporate codes of conduct and compliance with currently ignored national laws. The Gap "CAFTA, Capacity Building and Labor Standards" project includes development of consensus standards in the region, a credible monitoring and reporting system, training of managers and workers, and a "CAFTA Labor Fund" to support these efforts.

CAFTA, of course, is the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a successor to North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the next stop of the speeding train of unbridled trade regimes between the U.S. economic "Goliath" and selected groups of "Davids." The U.S. government, in large measure to answer critics that NAFTA’s "labor side agreement" was a dismal failure in protecting workers in Mexico, has pumped a considerable amount of money in Central America for "labor law enhancement."

Thus, the U. S. Department of Labor’s international affairs bureau established and funds CERSSO (Regional Center for Occupational Safety and Health) based in El Salvador and with offices throughout the region (see article below). The U.S. Agency for International Development has also pumped in significant funds for Central American projects like our recent training in Guatemala (see below as well).

So the panorama in the region is one of continued investment and production, and interest on the part of some brands and U.S. government agencies to improve working conditions, naturally for their own reasons. This is good news for us because Central America is the only region in the world economy where there are genuinely independent, non-profit, local monitoring groups that grew out of community-based NGOs, who can use this set of circumstances to expand their work and deepen their impact.

The monitoring groups in El Salvador and Guatemala already have years of experience in conducting audits of contractors’ factories for U.S. brands, and the newer groups in Honduras and Nicaragua are currently in discussions with various transnationals. The monitoring groups, with other several other NGOs in the region have formed the "Regional Initiative for Social Responsibility and Decent Work" to coordinate their work, share resources and experiences.

A key goal for the Regional Initiative is to negotiate collectively with brand-name retailers to establish region-wide auditing protocols, procedures and standards so the groups in the different countries cannot be played-off one another by either contractors or brands. The Initiative also wants to jointly contract work regionally among the groups, and not only the current code compliance audits but also in the growth area of "qualifying" factories run by Asian contractors seeking work from the brands as production grows and spreads in Central America.

For those of us who have been promoting the perspective that the best monitors are the workers themselves – and failing that, then local, community-based non-profits that enjoy the confidence of the workers – these developments in Central America are extremely important.

If our model of "code compliance monitoring" can succeed anywhere, then Central America is the place because of the existence and unique history of the monitoring groups there, and the (at least temporary) confluence of interests of transnational brands and the U.S. government to improve conditions in Central America.

And if it is possible to improve working conditions and compliance with labor laws in Central America with these brands, and with these Korean and Taiwanese contractors, then it could become an example proving that working conditions can be improved elsewhere in the global economy where the same set of players operate.

Of course, our ultimate goal remains the development of informed and empowered workers who can speak and act for themselves without intermediaries or substitutes. But on the road to this objective, the set of circumstances in Central America today offers an important opportunity to advance our collective experience and understanding of how to reach this final objective.

The immediate challenge for occupational health professionals in our Network is to maximize our contributions in the next period to building the capacity of the Central American groups to understand and effectively implement workplace health and safety concepts, and to mobilize the resources, to transfer the technology, and to provide the technical assistance they need to achieve this goal.

Our September training in Guatemala should be just the first step in long-term relationship with the millions of workers and their organizations in Central America. Any Network member interested in participating in this effort – which can involve various levels of support and assistance from North America as well as traveling to Central America – should contact Network Coordinator Garrett Brown to volunteer.

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Four independent monitoring groups, three trade unions and eight women’s and human rights organizations from the five Central American countries participated in a four-day training on workplace health and safety organized by our Network in Antigua, Guatemala, September 9-12, 2003.

The Regional Initiative for Social Responsibility and Decent Work, a grouping of Central American independent monitoring and research organizations, was the sponsor of the training funded by the International Labor Rights Fund in Washington, DC. Guatemala’s COVERCO (Comision de Verificacion de Codigos de Conducta) was the host organization and Abby Najera was the local coordinator.

The goal of the training was to build the capacity of the independent monitoring organizations to conduct more rigorous evaluations of health and safety conditions in the maquiladora sector plants in Central America; and to increase the understanding of health and safety issues among non-governmental organizations working closely with maquila workers in the region, especially in the garment and textile sector.

The 29 participants had three days of classroom activities featuring interactive, popular education-style teaching methods used by a team of five instructors, including Leonor Dionne and Dinorah Barton-Antonio of UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program, Michele Gonzalez Arroyo, a former LOHP staffer now living in Costa Rica, MHSSN coordinator Garrett Brown, and Catherine Doe of the Hesperian Foundation in Berkeley, CA. A 500-page Spanish-language binder was developed for the training and copies of the manual are available from LOHP at UC Berkeley.

A fourth day was spent conducting field exercises in the 2,500-worker plant operated by the Korean Shin Won corporation which produces garments for several U.S. clothing companies. Gap Inc. has the majority share of production at Shin Won and worked closely with plant management to allow training participants access to the facility. Shin Won also opened its doors to 10 Guatemalan and Korean managers responsible for health and safety from six other factories producing for the Gap in Guatemala. The management officials formed their own inspection team during the field day and rotated through plant departments on the same schedule as the four teams of training participants.

During the training, Catherine Doe of the Hesperian Foundation conducted two "focus group" meetings with interested participants to review the chapter on garment industry hazards from the forthcoming Hesperian health and safety manual for "export processing zone" workers around the world. Information on the manual, still under development, is available from Doe at .

On the final day of the training, a seminar on local and regional health and safety resources was scheduled with representatives from the Guatemalan Ministries of Labor and Social Security, the El Salvador-based Regional Center for Occupational Safety and Health (CERSSO), and the San Jose, Costa Rica office of the International Labor Organization. Unfortunately, only the Ministry of Labor was able to be present, but Alma Angelica Escobar Morales described in detail the challenges facing Guatemala’s 10 workplace health and safety inspectors when applying the law in the more than 250 foreign-owned maquiladoras and the thousands of nationally-owned work sites in Guatemala.

The organizations which participated in the training include: COVERCO, CALDH, CEADEL and the UNSITRAGUA union federation from Guatemala; GMIES, UCA and ORMUSA from El Salvador; EMIH, ERIC, CDM and the SITRAPARAISO-FITH union from Honduras; PASE, Maria Elena Cuadra (MEC) organization, and the CTN union from Nicaragua; and the ASEPROLA research center in Costa Rica.

Discussions about follow-up activities to the Guatemala training – possibly in the spring of 2004 in another Central American country – are already under way and the Regional Initiative expects to finalize a proposal at its next meeting in November 2003.

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The workers at the Autotrim and Customtrim/Breed Mexicana auto parts maquiladoras, and their supporters in Mexico, Canada and the United States, sent a letter on October 6, 2003, to the labor secretaries of the three NAFTA countries demanding participation in the "Tri-National Working Group on Occupational Safety and Health" which was formed in July 2002.

The Working Group was established to terminate and "resolve" the workplace health and safety complaint filed by the workers in the Florida-based Breed Technology plants in Matamoros and Valle Hermoso, Mexico, under NAFTA’s "labor side agreement" in 2000. The workers and their co-petitioners wrote U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao in September 2002 asking to participate in the government-only body, but their request was rejected.

The October 2003 letter renews this request and promises to raise the issue of meaningful enforcement of labor rights, including workplace health and safety, in pending trade agreements in Central America (CAFTA) and the western hemisphere as a whole (FTAA) in collaboration with members of the U.S. Congress who also wrote Chao in May and August 2002 urging the integration of the Autotrim/Customtrim workers into the Working Group.

The text of the letter, posted at our website ( with related materials, reads as follows:

October 6, 2003

Elaine Chao, Secretary
U.S. Department of Labor

Claudette Bradshaw, Minister
Ministry of Labour, Canada

Carlos Abascal Carranza, Secretary
Secretaria de Trabajo y Prevision Social, Mexico

Dear Secretaries Chao and Abascal and Minister Bradshaw:

As submitters in NAO Submission 2000-01, the Autotrim/Customtrim case, we write to renew our September 6, 2002, request that the workers and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that filed complaints under the NAALC, be incorporated into the Tri-national Working Group on Occupational Health and Safety ("Working Group").

Specifically, we propose the creation of a fifth subcommittee, which would complement the four subcommittees that currently exist, with the direct participation of workers and NGOs. The fifth Working Group subcommittee would review the strengths and weaknesses of the NAALC submission process with respect to improving occupational health and safety conditions in the NAFTA countries, by examining the petitions that have been filed, how the petitions have been handled under the NAALC, and their outcomes. As is the case with government representatives, worker and NGO representatives on the fifth subcommittee will require financial assistance to be full and active members.

On June 11, 2002, Mexico and the United States issued a Joint Ministerial Declaration, which purported to "resolve" the Autotrim/Customtrim (AT/CT) case by establishing a government-to-government Working Group on Occupational Health and Safety. In a press release issued after the October 7, 2002, meeting of the Working Group, John L. Henshaw, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Health and Safety, asserted that the Working Group process will produce "tangible results, ones that benefit us all by reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities in all workplaces throughout North America."

We have now waited a year for the "tangible results" the U.S. Department of Labor promised. No such results have been observed. The very same failures to enforce health and safety laws in North America, which were extensively documented in the AT/CT case and in several other NAALC submissions, remain unchanged.

The failure of the Working Group to produce substantive improvements in the lives of real workers is unacceptable. One year ago, Secretary Chao denied our request, to participate in the Working Group. Instead, the Working Group’s quarterly discussions have taken place behind closed doors, and behind the backs of the workers, NGOs, news media and the public.

We believe that the Working Group’s exclusion of workers – those with first-hand knowledge of the impact of inadequate enforcement of occupational health and safety laws – largely accounts for the dearth of tangible improvements in the health and safety conditions for maquiladora workers. The refusal to include workers, who have the most at stake, reduces the tri-national meetings to nothing more than "talk shops" among government functionaries. Representatives of the NAFTA governments have had years to talk about how to improve enforcement of existing occupational health and safety laws. We are therefore skeptical about the ability of Working Group meetings comprised only of government officials to produce tangible results.

Government inaction impelled the filing of the Autotrim/Customtrim submission and other complaints under the NAALC in the first place. In 1998 and 1999, Autotrim and Customtrim/Breed Mexicana workers filed written petitions with the Mexican government in which they described in detail the lack of enforcement of occupational health and safety laws at the two plants, and the resulting illnesses and injuries. The workers asked their government to take action to remedy violations of Mexican law. The government’s failure to respond to the petitions or take effective corrective action finally prompted workers, former workers, and NGOS to file the Autotrim/Customtrim submission under the NAALC in 2000.

Both the U.S. NAO and experts from National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) confirmed the deficiencies described by the submitters in their petitions to the Mexican government, their written NAO submission, and their live testimony at a public hearing. However, Autotrim and Customtrim workers have seen no improvements in health and safety conditions, or in the government’s response to work-related illnesses and injuries.

Detailed recommendations submitted in July 2001 by the workers and their co-petitioners, at the request of the U.S. Department of Labor for use in the NAALC process, have been ignored. These recommendations describe specific, relatively low-cost measures that the NAFTA governments could have already undertaken to generate concrete improvements in the lives of Mexican workers and their families.

Absent active participation and rigorous evaluation by workers and their representatives, the current topics being discussed by the Working Group — the development of a tri-national website, best practices in occupational health and safety management systems, chemical hazard measures, and further training of inspectors — will remain abstractions. Until the governments systematically include those directly affected by poor enforcement policies and practices, the Working Group will continue to be a closed-door process controlled by functionaries who have talked for years about occupational health and safety — with no discernable impact on worker protection in any of the three countries.

We believe that the exclusion of workers and their representatives inappropriately shields government officials responsible for implementing the NAALC from public scrutiny and accountability. One of the fundamental premises of the NAALC is the importance of transparency, openness, and public participation in the administration of labor laws and policy. See, e.g., NAALC articles 1(g), 5, and 7. The secret and exclusive nature of the discussions held by the Working Group thus flies in the face of the NAALC itself.

In May 2002, 35 members of the U.S. Congress wrote the U.S. Department of Labor to express their concern and disappointment with the treatment of the Autotrim/Customtrim case under the NAALC. In August 2002, two U.S. Senators called the formation of the Working Group "an insufficient response to the issues raised by the Autotrim/Customtrim case." Senators Kennedy and Wellstone asked Secretary Chao at least to "include some of the workers who submitted the [Autotrim/Customtrim] complaint and that the working group respond to the recommendations for protecting worker safety submitted by the petitioners in this case."

The proposed fifth subcommittee to evaluate the efficacy of the NAALC complaint process in occupational health and safety cases is particularly critical as we approach the ten-year anniversary of NAFTA, and as government officials and the public discuss additional free trade agreements now proposed in this hemisphere.

We urge you to act affirmatively to include workers and NGOs in a fifth subcommittee to identify, evaluate and eliminate the obstacles to effective enforcement of workplace health and safety regulations throughout North America.

Monica Schurtman
Associate Professor
University of Idaho College of Law

Garrett Brown
Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network

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In 2001, the U.S. Department of Labor established, and has continued to fund, a "Regional Center for Occupational Safety and Health" (CERSSO) with its headquarters in San Salvador, El Salvador, and representatives in the five Central American countries, Belize, Panama and the Dominican Republic. CERSSO’s major programs include support to the labor departments of the region’s governments; work with employers, and maquiladora operators in particular; and outreach to community-based organizations, including unions.

CERSSO has helped the region’s governments develop country-specific strategic plans for the implementation of national law and increasing public awareness of occupational health and safety. In each country a national, tripartite commission on occupational health and safety has been formed with CERSSO’s assistance and ongoing support. CERSSO has provided an extensive series of trainings for workplace health and safety inspectors, developing their own materials as well as translating training materials from U.S. OSHA. The center has also facilitated the donation of monitoring equipment and personal protective equipment for government inspectors.

With the employer organizations, CERSSO has developed a "self-diagnostic tool kit" to both identify hazards in the workplace, and to generate a cost-benefit analysis demonstrating the immediate financial benefits in reducing workplace hazards, injuries and illnesses. The managers of more than 100 maquilas in the region have been trained on the materials and their positive experiences are being shared with other employers.

CERSSO’s "training of trainers" program has resulted in more than 13,000 workers in the region receiving health and safety information from CERSSO-trained "health promoters" in their organizations. These include an agricultural union in Nicaragua, a campesino group in Guatemala, and technical institutes in Honduras. Among those trained include 1,000 lobster divers in the La Mosquita region of Honduras and Nicaragua.

The CERSO website – -- has information on their major programs and a newsletter with details of activities throughout the region. There is a wide variety of materials posted on the website, including information on the "self-diagnostic tool kit," the texts (in Spanish) of modules of a basic H&S course, and reports on activities by participating government, business and grassroots organizations in the eight countries.

Additional information in CERSSO activities and materials is available from Technical Director Dr. Rafael Amador ( and U.S. Department of Labor Project Manager Paula Church (

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Canada’s Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN), a leading source of thoughtful analysis, news and action campaigns about labor rights and working conditions in the global economy, is under serious attack from a Canadian transnational corporation.

In May 2003, MSN released a report, "A Canadian Success Story? Gildan Activewear: T-Shirts, Free Trade and Worker Rights," co-authored with the Honduran Independent Monitoring Group (EMIH) about conditions inside Gildan’s garment plants in Central America. A copy of the report is available at:

Based on off-site interviews with workers at Gildan’s wholly-owned and subcontracted factories in Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, the report documents cases of mass firings of union members, inadequate wages and high production targets, health and child care issues created by long hours of work, and the workers’ concerns that urine or blood testing of new employees were designed to determine pregnancy status. The report concluded with a series of recommendations to Gildan and its subcontractors to ensure respect for national law and the workers’ rights.

On July 9th, the Montreal-based Gildan threatened MSN with legal action if the Network continued to distribute the report. On July 14th, Gildan sent copies of its letter to nearly all the organizations that have provided financial support for MSN’s work in an aggressive attempt to undermine MSN and intimidate its funders.

On July 28th, MSN received a letter from the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production Certification Program (WRAP) criticizing MSN for its "attacks on Gildan Activewear’s WRAP certified factories." At least three of the factories profiled in the report are "certified" as being in compliance with "WRAP Principles."

WRAP is an apparel industry-sponsored certification scheme created to compete with more stringent codes of conduct and monitoring programs, such as the Workers Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign, Fair Labor Association, Social Accounting 8000, among others. The WRAP is widely viewed as the weakest of the numerous global codes of conduct but, not surprisingly, is the system that has been enthusiastically adopted by many of the Maquiladora Associations and Export Processing Zone Associations in Central America and in Asia.

The MSN, which stands behind the report and has continued to distribute it, has called upon Gildan to cooperate with an independent investigation to determine whether the issues and problems documented in the MSN/EMIH report continue to exist or have been corrected.

The attacks by Gildan and WRAP on the MSN are very similar to "SLAPP" suits that U.S.-based transnationals have filed against environmental, consumer safety and human rights organizations who have criticized the corporations’ behavior in the U.S. and abroad. These lawsuits brought by companies with nearly inexhaustible financial and legal resources are designed to tie up grassroots organizations with lengthy and expensive legal proceedings, and to force them into bankruptcy and inactivity.

At present MSN is not calling for a boycott of Gildan products, or for bulk purchasers to cease placing orders with Gildan. But, depending on Gildan’s and WRAP’s next moves, it may well be necessary for all supporters of democratic rights to come to the active defense of MSN in the near future.

For up-to-date information on this case, please consult the MSN’s website at:

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A special issue of the International Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health (IJOEH) will look at occupational health and safety in China in its October-December 2003 issue. Network Coordinator Garrett Brown and UC Berkeley Professor Dara O’Rourke were guest editors of the quarterly journal edited by Dr. Joe LaDou of the University of California at San Francisco. Information on IJOEH and this special issue can be found at .

The articles in the special China issue of IJOEH include:

- "Occupational Health and Safety Legislation and Implementation in China," by Zhi Su of the Chinese government;

- "Occupational Health and Safety in China: The Absence of Rigor and the Failure of Implementation," by Tim Pringle and Stephen Frost, independent researchers in Hong Kong;

- "Rules and Regulations in Chinese Factories," by Stephen Frost;

- "China’s Factory Floors: An Industrial Hygienist’s View," by Garrett Brown;

- "Chinese Workers Pay Personal Price for Employer Non-Compliance with Labor, Safety Rules," by E. Griggers-Smith, a Shanghai-based journalist;

- "Nursing Rooms as an Indicator of Demographic Change Among Migrant Workers in Guangdong Province, China," by Jill Tucker of Reebok Inc.;

- "Why China Matters in Global Electronics," by Boy Luethje, of Germany’s Institut fuer Sozialforschung;

- "Occupational Lung Disease in China," by Xiao-Rong Wang and David Christiani of Harvard University;

- "Development of a Cancer research Study in the Shanghai Textile Industry," by Janice Camp and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle;

- "Workers’ Participation and their Health and Safety Protection in China’s Transitional Industrial Economy: Two In-Depth Case Studies," by Meei-Shia Chen of Taiwan’s National University;

- "Developing an Action-Based Health and Safety Training Project in Southern China," by Betty Szudy of UC Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program, Dara O’Rourke and Garrett Brown;

- "Experiments in Transforming the Global Workplace: Incentives and Impediments to Improving Workplace Conditions in China," by Dara O’Rourke and Garrett Brown.

The China Labour Bulletin, based in Hong Kong, issued a special electronic newsletter on occupational safety and health in China on September 12, 2003. The e-bulletin (Issue No. 15) has eight articles, including information on China’s coal mines, fireworks industry, and updates on the fate of workers who speak out about workplace hazards. The bulletin can be downloaded at

There has also been a continuing stream of articles in the mass media about working conditions in China. Among these articles are:

- "Chinese Girls’ Toll Brings Pain, Not Riches," by Joseph Kahn, The New York Times, October 2, 2003;

- "In China, gold rush wreaks toxic death," by Gady A. Epstein, The Baltimore Sun, September 14, 2003;

- "Chinese Economy’s Underside: Abuse of Migrants," by Joseph Kahn, The New York Times, August 26, 2003;

- "Tide of China’s Migrants: Flowing to Boom, or Bust?," by Eric Eckholm, The New York Times, July 29, 2003;

- "China’s Legal Changes Create Army of Self-Taught Lawyers; After exposure to poison at work, Mr. Wu becomes a labor crusader," by Peter Wonacott, The Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2003;

- "Making Trinkets in China, and a Deadly Dust," by Joseph Kahn, The New York Times, June 18, 2003.

- "Two Chinese Labor Leaders Get Prison Terms," by Philip P. Pan, The Washington Post, May 10, 2003.

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On August 13, 2003, the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights approved a set of corporate social accountability norms for multinational corporations.

While the UN Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises do not establish new rules of standards, they do gather together in one document the relevant international human rights, labor, gender, indigenous, environmental and anti-corruption treaties and standards applicable to global companies.

The significance of the draft norms is that they recognize that multinational corporations, and not just nation states, are responsible for respecting, promoting and ensuring compliance with human rights and labor and environmental standards.

On labor rights issues, the Norms make reference to the International Labor Organization (ILO) Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, as well as the ILO Conventions concerning forced labor, child labor, freedom of association and collective bargaining, discrimination, health and safety, and wages. They also make reference to the Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises, which recognizes the right of workers to wages that meet their basic needs.

The document calls on global companies to report on implementation of these international laws and standards, and to incorporate them in their contracts with contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, licensees, and distributors. It also endorses "transparent and independent" monitoring and verification that takes into account "inputs from stakeholders (including non-governmental organizations) and as a result of complaints of violations of these Norms."

The draft norms still need to be approved by the UN Human Rights Commission, which meets in early March of next year. While the Norms being supported by major human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Oxfam and Human Rights Watch, which called them a "step in the right direction" toward binding standards for corporations, they are being opposed for the same reason by the International Chamber of Commerce, which sees them as a "move away from the realm of voluntary initiative…conflicting with the approach of other parts of the UN."

The full text of the draft UN document can be found at:

(Article taken from "Codes Memo" #15 from Canada’s Maquila Solidarity Network. The full text of the newsletter can be found at:

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Network members attending the annual conference of the American Public Health Association in San Francisco, November 15-19, 2003, will have the opportunity to get the latest on Network activities and plans for the future. The events planned to date include:

- Sunday, November 16th, 8:30 to 11:30 am – Business meeting of the Occupational Health and Safety Section, Marriott hotel;

- Sunday, November 16th, 11:30 am to 12:30 pm – Meeting of the Industrial Hygiene Committee of the OHS Section, Marriott hotel;

- Sunday, November 16th, 2 to 3:30 pm – "Town Hall Meeting on Globalization, Trade Agreements and Public Health," Moscone Center, Room 222, sponsored by the APHA "Network on Globalization and Health" and the Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health (CPATH). MHSSN Coordinator Garrett Brown will be one of the speakers on a diverse panel of public health professionals discussing the impact of globalization on public health;

- Monday, November 17th, 10:30 am – "As China Become the World’s Factory Floor – What’s Happening to the Workers’ Health and Safety?," Session #3143.0, Marriott hotel room C1-Golden Gate Hall, presentation by Garrett Brown;

- Monday, November 17th, 6 to 8 pm, Social Hour of the Occupational Health and Safety and Environment sections, Marriott hotel;

- Tuesday, November 18th, 12 noon – Awards luncheon of the Occupational Health and Safety Section where Juliana So, Project Coordinator of the Chinese Working Women Network and the local coordinator of our August 2001 training in Dongguan City, China, training, will receive the OHS Section’s International Award;

- Tuesday, November 18th, 4:30 pm – "Balance Sheet of Health and Safety Complaints Under NAFTA’s Labor Side Agreement – No improvements for workers, few changes in government practices," Session #4296.0, Marriott hotel room Nob Hill B, presentation by Garrett Brown

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Britain’s Trade Union Congress (TUC) has started a quarterly "Trade Union Digest of Organizations and Resources on International Development Issues." The digest has current information about written resources, videos, websites and organizations. The third issue of the digest was published in July 2003 and the fourth one is due any day. The digest can be downloaded at: The new digest complements a longstanding monthly report on "TUC International Development Matters," which can be found at the same website.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has several important, but not so new, electronic newsletters worth keeping an eye on. The ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV) publishes a monthly newsletter "Human.Rights@Work" with information about occupational safety and health amongst many other labor rights issues, statistical reports, and features on global concerns. The newsletter can be found at:

A second useful newsletter published by the ILO is one published quarterly by the InFocus Programme on Socio-Economic Security (SES). The electronic bulletin features articles on social conditions in various regions of the world, activities of the ILO such as the development of the "Decent Work Index," and new publications. It can be downloaded at:

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  • The coordinator’s letter from the April 2003 issue of the newsletter – opposing the invasion of Iraq and noting its adverse impact of the invasion on occupational safety and health in the global economy – was picked up by several occupational H&S publications. The Australian "Safety At Work" magazine ran a condensed version of the letter in its May 20th issues (Issue #14). "Occupational Hazards" magazine’s electronic web site ran an article on the letter on April 14th news bulletin. Responses from Network members to the newsletter editorial ran 3 to 1 in favor of the article, which is posted on the Network’s web site:

  • The Indonesian-language binder used in the Network’s trainings in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2000 and 2002, have been posted on the website of the Jakarta office of the International Labor Organization (ILO). The ILO Jakarta office is one of the largest in Asia and lists our materials at:

  • The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH) – an essential source of information about EHS in the global economy – has redesigned its website at: The site includes listings of recent issues of the quarterly edited by Dr. Joe LaDou of the University of California at San Francisco, and also provides a downloadable version of the lead article of each issue.

  • Coordinator Garrett Brown has been invited to speak about the Network’s work at two gatherings of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). On November 13th, Brown will address a joint dinner meeting of the local sections of AIHA and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) in Burbank, CA. On December 8th, Brown will speak at the annual conference of the California Industrial Hygiene Council to be held in San Francisco. Both events will feature reports on our Network’s activities in Asia, Central America and Mexico, and will include slides of shoe and garment plants in these regions.

  • Two major workplace health and safety conferences will be held in December 2003. The Asian Workers Occupational Health, Safety and Environment Institute (OHSEI) in Bangkok, Thailand, is hosting its annual theme conference on occupational diseases and regional, national and global strategies to control them on December 3-4, 2003, in Thailand. More information on the conference is available at: The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is having its health and safety conference in Detroit, Michigan, on December 7-10, 2003. More information on the labor H&S conference is available at:

  • Sweatshop Watch, a leading workers’ rights organization focused on garment workers in the United States, is looking to fill an Associate Director position based at the Los Angeles Garment Workers Center. More information is available from Director Nikki Fortunato Bas at 510-834-8990 and at

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"Still, the first batch of audits is remarkably candid. In fact, one depressing result of seeing them for the first time is the realization of just how little has changed in all these years. In more than 40 factories inspected, the audits found all the ills that have plagued low-wage producers for years, from arbitrary firings to forced overtime. ‘There’s not much sense of progress being made on these long-standing issues,’ says Prakash Sethi, a Baruch College management professor who heads the independent monitoring effort at Mattel, Inc., the only other company to publicly release its audits." – Aaron Bernstein, writing on the release of selected corporate audits by the Fair Labor Association in the June 23, 2003, issue of Business Week magazine.

"It is certainly true that companies’ rhetoric on CSR [corporate social responsibility] has tended to outpace performance. Companies have concentrated CSR efforts on activities that have an external rather than internal focus: producing reports, publicly issuing codes of conduct or signing up to external principles. Popular tactics also include striking partnerships with pressure groups and convening discussions with ‘stakeholders.’ The result is that companies’ attention is often diverted from the internal task of actually implementing the policies set out in their codes of conduct. Though this is crucial if public criticism is to be avoided, the management difficulties can be immense. New values must be embedded within the corporate culture, and watertight internal control systems established," – Daniel Litvin, author of "Empires of Profit: Commerce, Conquest and Corporate Responsibility," writing in the May 12, 2003, issue of the Financial Times (UK ) newspaper.

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There continues to be a river of informational and analytical reports on working conditions in the world’s factories released each month. What once was a paucity of "hard information" and a surplus of "anecdotal reports" has become an almost overwhelming torrent of materials. Here is a brief list of some of the latest reports and key articles from the mass media.


- "From North to South – A Trail Blazed in Femicide and Impunity," major report on the murders of women in Ciudad Juarez and other cities in Mexico, October 2, 2003, Frontera Norte-Sur news service from the Center for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University, available at:

- "Mexico: Ten years of intolerable crimes against women in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua must end now," Amnesty International, August 2003, available at:

- "International Trade: Mexico’s Maquiladora Declines Affects U.S.-Mexico Border Communities and Trade; Recovery Depends on Part on Mexico’s Actions," U.S. General Accounting Office, Report 03-891, July 2003, available at:


- "Testimony Presented to the Congressional-Executive Committee on China," by Phil Fishman, Assistant Director of International Affairs, AFL-CIO, July 7, 2003.

- "Workplace Codes of Conduct in China and Related Labor Conditions," by Thomas Lum, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division, Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress, April 23, 2003.

- "Raising Labor Standards, Corporate Social responsibility and Missing Links – Vietnam and China Compared," by Anita Chan and Hong-zen Wang, paper presented to a March 2003 conference at the University of Michigan; available from Anita Chan at

Occupational Health & Safety

- "ILO Standards-related activities in the area of occupational safety and health: An in-depth study for discussion with a view to the elaboration of a plan of action for such activities," Report VI to the 91st Session (2003) of the International Labor Conference; available at:

- "Safety in Numbers; Pointers for global safety culture at work," International Labor Organization, 2003; available at:

Reports from workplaces around the world

- "Workers Rights Consortium Assessment re PT Dae Joo Leports (Indonesia) and re Kawasan Berikat Nusantara Export Processing Zone, Marunda & Cakung Branches (Indonesia), Findings and Recommendations," Workers Rights Consortium, August 2003; available at:

- "Fifth and Sixth Synthesis Reports on the Working Conditions Situation in Cambodia’s Garment Sector," International Labor Organization, June 2003; available at:

- "Labour Update." LIPS, Bogor, Indonesia, first and second quarter 2003 newsletters; available from Iman Rahmana at:

Codes of Conduct

- "Monitoring and Verification Terminology guide for the garments and sportswear industries," Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), August 2003; available at:

- "Towards a sustainable corporate social responsibility," European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Philippe Bronchain, editor, 2003; available at:

- "ETI Workbook; Step-by-step to ethical trade," Ethical Trading Initiative, First edition, 2003; available at:

- "Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility: Bench Marks for Measuring Business Performance," Steering Group of the Global Principles Network, Third edition, 2003; available at:

- "Commentary: Sweatshops – Finally, Airing the Dirty Linen," by Aaron Bernstein, Business Week, June 232, 2003.

- "Verite Monitor, Issue #7," Verite, Spring/summer 2003; available at:

Globalization Issues

- "Whose Trade Organization? The Comprehensive Guide to the WTO," by Lori Wallach and Patrick Woodall, Public Citizen, Fall 2003; available at:

- "Reforming the IMF and the World Bank to Meet the Millennium Development Goals," International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), Global Union Federations (GUFs) and Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), September 2003; available at:

- "Export Processing Zones – Symbols of Exploitation and a Development Dead-End," International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), September 2003; available at:

- "SOMO Bulletin on Issues in Garments & Textiles," Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), Number 2, July 2003; available at:

- "Working Out of Poverty," Report of the Director-General Juan Somavia, International Labor Organization," Report VI to the 91st Session (2003) of the International Labor Conference; available at:

- "Justice for All: A Guide to Worker Rights in the Global Economy," American Center for International Labor Solidarity, May 2003; available at:

- "Asia Pacific Labour Law Review – Workers’ Rights for the New Century," Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC), April 2003; available at:

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