Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter
April 12, 2004
Volume VIII, Number 1
Editor & Coordinator: Garrett Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Webmaster: Heather Block (email@example.com)
P.O. Box 124, Berkeley, CA 94701-0124
Who We Are
Letter from the Coordinator
NAFTAs 10 Years: Portrait of a Failure
Key NAFTA Anniversary Reports
Maquiladora Workers, Supporters Renew Call for NAFTA Review
Health & Safety Training Set For June 2004 in China
Mexican Maquiladora Workers Continue to Fight for Their Rights
Key New Reports on Global Sweatshops
Major Reports and New Resources on Global Workplaces
WHO WE ARE
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.
Since 2000, the Network has expanded its work to include projects in Indonesia, China and Central America. Our goal has always been to build the capacity of workers and their organizations to understand occupational health and safety issues and to be able to speak and act in their own name to protect their health and to exercise their rights. Our activities have included providing information and trainings to workers, plant-wide health and safety committees, and to community, human rights and professional associations; technical assistance to workers filing complaints under international trade agreements; and technical information for grassroots organizations monitoring the performance of transnational corporations and government health and safety agencies in the global economy.
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 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 April 2004
January 1st marked the 10th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was negotiated by George Bush the First and then amended (with a labor and environmental "side agreements") and implemented during Bill Clintons administration.
To mark the occasion, there has been an avalanche of reports and analysis of NAFTAs 10 years and what it has meant (see a partial list below). All observers agree that it has not met the promises made in 1993 to win its approval, with opinions ranging from a "small benefit" to a "total failure." Reading through the analyses there are clearly "winners" and "losers" in these past 10 years with U.S.-based transnational corporations and a thin layer of professionals serving them being the winners, and the workers, family farmers, small businesses and the environment of all three countries being the clear losers.
The "success of NAFTA" is now being used as the model for other trade and investment treaties which are coming at a rapid pace: Jordan, Chile, Morocco, Australia, Central America and the Americas, as well as a long list of treaties now under negotiation. For this reason it behooves all of us to look at the actual track record of NAFTA to see what lessons it holds for protecting workers and environmental health under these agreements.
In my opinion, the record is not a good one and a very different approach must be adopted if these trade and investment treaties are to benefit anyone beyond a thin layer of privileged elites, let alone those who create the wealth and the planet itself.
Having "labor rights" sections in the trade treaties that call for nothing more than implementation of already existing workplace health and safety regulations, and without any meaningful enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with even these job site protections, will not protect workers in the 21st century global economy. Unless workers health protections have enforcement mechanisms at least as effective, rapid and severe as protections of trade marks, copyrights and investors rights, worker and environmental health will be no better off than during the last 10 years of NAFTA.
What is needed is a system of step-wise "upward harmonization" of occupational and environmental health regulations throughout the global economy accompanied by technology transfer, technical and financial assistance to the developing world so that these ever-more health protective regs are not simply trade barriers to poor countries. In addition, there must be transparent, effective sanctions against employers who fail to abide by health protections and against governments who fail to ensure these protections everywhere in the global economy.
The first step, of course, is looking at the NAFTA experience and learning from the mistakes and ineffectiveness of that process. There is already a growing body of reports and analysis of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) which draws on this experience and looks at the likely results for workers in Central American maquiladoras, and the societies and environments in which they live. See the Resources section below for a partial list of these reports.
Lots of things to read, but, as the saying goes, one cannot plan for the future without understanding the past.
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NAFTAs 10 YEARS: PORTRAIT OF A FAILURE
January 2004 marked the 10-year anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). A flood of reports on the performance and impact of the three-country trade agreement (see section below) have been issued since the beginning of the year. Almost all of them have concluded that NAFTA has produced benefits for transnational corporations while for everyone else workers in all three countries, family farmers and small businesses, the social and ecological environment on the U.S.-Mexico border NAFTA has been a disaster.
The much-heralded "labor side agreement" the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, or NAALC has been a particular failure in protecting the rights, health and safety of workers in all three nations, but especially in Mexico. Since 1994, 28 cases of "persistent failure to enforce" existing labor law in North America have been submitted to the NAALC process, but only two fired workers were (temporarily) returned to work, while not a single independent union has been recognized and signed a collective bargaining agreement, and not a single set of workplace health and safety hazards has been corrected as a result of the NAALC process.
In economic terms, NAFTA has been a great success for U.S.-based transnational corporations. Mexicos exports rose 600% between 1993 and 2002, and foreign direct investment (FDI) tripled between 1985 and 2002, rising to $55 billion in the 19942002 period. Labor productivity in Mexico has risen 45% since 1995. Mexicos economy has become completely interlocked with its northern neighbor, as 65% of Mexicos imports come from the U.S. while 89% of exports go to the U.S.
As a model of development Mexicos promised ascension to the "First World" NAFTA has failed, as the per capita gross domestic product of Mexico was the same in 2003 as it was in 1980. Only 4% of the inputs for maquiladora production in 2002 were of Mexican origin, meaning little or no growth of domestic industry. More than 40% of the U.S.-Mexico trade is intra-corporate trade within divisions or subsidiaries of the same company.
Both absolute and relative levels of poverty have grown in Mexico since NAFTA went into effect. Of the 100 million plus Mexicans, 54 million now live in poverty (less than $2 a day), while 21 million live in extreme poverty (less than $1 a day). There are 19 million more Mexicans living in poverty today than 20 years ago. Some 46% of those in the countryside are in "mid-extreme poverty," living on less than $1.40 a day.
In December 2002, Mexicos Labor Department reported that 75% of the economically active population had incomes the equivalent of five minimum wages below that needed to meet basic necessities of life. Most maquiladora workers earn between two and three minimum wages.
The real minimum wage itself has declined in value by 23% since NAFTA took effect and the average manufacturing wage (higher than that of the average maquiladora wage) has fallen 12%. The number of workers subsisting in the informal sector, without set wages or benefits, is between 35% and 60% of the economically active population, depending on whose set of statistics are used.
In the environmental arena, NAFTA has led to the explosion of urban areas in the fragile desert ecology of the U.S.-Mexico border. Cities have doubled and tripled in size without any urban planning or provision of basic services like electricity, potable water, sewage, paved streets, schools and health clinics in the newly populated areas. The Mexican governments statistics agency reported in 2001 that since 1994 municipal solid waste had increased by 108% while air pollution on the border had increase by 97%. At the same time, the agency reported, government spending on the environment declined by 45%.
Under the NAALC, 28 cases were filed with "National Administrative Offices" (NAO) in Canada, Mexico and the United States. Fifteen of these were investigated by the NAO of the country receiving the complaint, and seven of these related to workplace health and safety issues. The net result of these seven cases has been no gains for any other workers who filed them (such as correction of hazards described in the submissions) and no significant changes in government enforcement of existing regulations.
The NAALC established a long, drawn-out process of numerous steps, several with no deadline or action requirement, in which the workers and NGOs who filed the complaints were excluded from participation after their initial presentation of the complaint. Complaints cannot be made about the inadequacy of a countrys workplace safety regulations, but only about the "persistent failure" of one of the three governments to enforce its own existing regulations.
None of the complaints went beyond the first of five steps after NAO confirmation of the validity of the allegations. That step is "Ministerial Consultations" or closed-door meetings between government secretaries of labor without deadlines or requirements for action. All of the health and safety NAALC cases which had not already been "resolved" by Ministerial Consultations were terminated in 2002 by the formation of a "Tri-National Working Group on Occupational Safety and Health."
The Working Group consists solely of government functionaries who meet in private session and who have held several public forums on generic topics that have little or nothing to do with the substance of the NAALC complaints and the NAO investigation reports confirming their validity. (See article below on the status of the Autotrim/Customtrim workers efforts to participate in the "resolution" of their complaint.)
In the most recent study of the NAALC process, UCLA researcher Linda Delp concluded that the NAALC is "in danger of fading into oblivion." The failure to produce any meaningful results is due to "1) Limitations inherent in the NAALC as negotiated, 2) Lack of political will to address the problems that have come to light and, 3) Refusal to include workers and their advocates in discussions to improve workplace conditions."
Delp and her colleagues at UCLA proposed the following recommendations for reforming the NAALC process, and any similar "labor rights protection" process in current and future trade and investment agreements:
- Streamline the process by incorporating deadlines;
- Establish an Expert Committee of Experts (ECE), the next step in the NAALC process, to examine the Autotrim/Customtrim case;
- Openly evaluate the NAALCs effectiveness at the 10-year mark (2004), actively soliciting written input and testimony from submitters, with a commitment to improve the current NAALC process and future trade agreements;
- Build workers rights into trade agreements rather than attaching them as a side agreement with no enforcement mechanism.
- Expand cross-border solidarity efforts;
- Provide resources to build government infrastructures and the ability to enforce health and safety and other labor standards. The proposed "Tobin Tax" of financial transactions worldwide is a potential source of funding;
- Establish a mechanism to sanction companies that violate internationally recognized workers rights; and
- Include worker health and safety as one of the International Labor Organizations (ILO) "core labor rights."
If there is one positive result from the NAFTA process, it is the explosion of cross-border organizing and solidarity between grassroots organizations in the three NAFTA countries. Since 1994 there has been a tremendous growth of collaboration and joint projects between labor, environmental, womens, community and human rights organizations in Canada, Mexico and the United States all attempting to deal with the lack of protection for labor rights and the environment under NAFTA and its labor and environmental side agreements.
Three recent publications have chronicled this important development: David Bacons book "The Children of NAFTA" (University of California); David Brooks and Jonathan Foxs book "Cross-Border Dialogues: U.S.-Mexico Social Movement Networking" (UC San Diego Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies); and Jonathan Foxs review of nine NAFTA-related books for the "Latin American Research Review" (Vol. 39, No. 1, February 2004).
This cross-border solidarity was the source of the only real victory for labor rights and workplace safety in the Maquiladora sector during the 10 years of NAFTA: the Kukdong case. Kukdong, now MEXMODE, is a Korean-owned garment manufacturer which has produced for Nike, Reebok and other international brands selling in the U.S. market. In 2001, workers at Kukdong began organizing an independent union and experienced all the illegal obstacles placed in the path of workers in Mexico illegal firings, widespread intimidation, "production layoffs," actual and threatened violence.
The Kukdong workers hung in there, but the key to success was a "perfect storm" of pressure exerted on the Korean operators by U.S. student and anti-sweatshop groups; "third party" monitoring organizations like the Fair Labor Association, International Labor Rights Fund, and Workers Rights Consortium; and by Nike and Reebok. As a result of this unprecedented, multifaceted campaign, the plant operators recognized the independent union and actually signed a contract with the union.
Recently, MEXMODE and the independent union negotiated a second contract that resulted in a wage increase of 14% in all job categories, including a 50% increase for night shift workers, and talks are continuing over proposals for a breakfast program, savings plan, and resolution of problems with subcontracting. Improvements in workplace health and safety have been part of both contracts.
It is notable that this singular positive development occurred completely outside the NAALC process and only as a result of tremendous and persistent pressure from non-governmental organizations and the workers themselves. "Perfect storms" cannot be expected more than once a decade, however, so more systematic and institutional changes along the lines of the UCLA recommendations must be implemented for the NAALC process and other "labor rights protections" now being incorporated into free trade agreements, if the lessons of NAFTAs "toothless" side agreements are to be learned for the future.
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KEY NAFTA ANNIVERSARY REPORTS
In the last six months, there has been a flood of analytical reports and policy briefs regarding NAFTAs impact in the three countries of North America. Here are some of the most notable publications.
- "NAFTAs Promise and Reality: Lessons from Mexico for the Hemisphere;" John J. Audley, Demetrios G. Papademetriou, Sandra Polaski and Scott Vaunghan; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, available at: www.ceip.org/pubs
- "The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border;" David Bacon; book from the University of California Press, March 2004; available at: www.ucpress.edu
- "NAFTAs Legacy profits and poverty;" David Bacon; San Francisco Chronicle, January 14, 2004; available at: www.sfgate.com
- "NAFTA: Ten years of Cross-Border Dialogue;" David Brooks and Jonathan Fox; Americas Program, Interhemispheric Resource Center; available at: www.americaspolicy.org
- "NAFTAs Labor Side Agreement: Fading Into Oblivion? An Assessment of Workplace Health & Safety Cases;" Linda Delp, Marisol Arriagua, Guadalupe Palma, Haydee Urita and Abel Valenzuela; UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education; available from Linda Delp at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- "How NAFTA Failed Mexico;" Jeff Faux; The America Prospect, Volume 14, Issue 7, July 3, 2003; available at www.tap.org
- "NAFTA at 10: Where Do We Go From Here?;" Jeff Faux; The Nation, February 2, 2004; available at: www.thenation.com
- "International Trade: Mexicos Maquiladora Decline Affects U.S.-Mexico Border Communities and Trade; Recovery Depends in Part on Mexicos Actions;" General Accounting Office, Report #03-891, July 2003; available at: www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-891
- "North American Labor Under NAFTA;" Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Regional Jones, Jeffrey J. Schoot, Diana Orejas and Ben Goodrich; Institute for International Economics; available at: www.iie.org
- "Trading Away Rights: The Unfilled Promises of NAFTAs Labor Side Agreement;" Human Rights Watch, Volume 13, No. 2(B), April 2001; available at: www.hrw.org
- "NAFTA 10 Years Later;" large series of articles posted on the website of Inter-Press Service (IPS) on a wide range of subjects; available at: www.ips.com
- "Lessons from NAFTA for Latin American and Caribbean Countries: A Summary of Research Findings;" Daniel Lederman, William F. Maloney and Luis Serven; The World Bank; available at: www.worldbank.org/laceonomist
- "Seven Myths About NAFTA and Three lessons for Latin America;" Alejandro Nadal, Francisco Aguayo and Marcos Chavez; Americas Program, Interhemispheric Resource Center; available at: www.americaspolicy.org
- "The Ten Year Track Record of the North America Free Trade Agreement," extensive series of reports by Public Citizens Global Trade Watch; available at: www.tradewatch.org
- "The High Price of Free Trade: NAFTAs failure has cost the United States jobs across the nation;" Robert E. Scott; Economic Policy Institute; available at: http://epinet.org
- "The Broken Promise of NAFTA;" Joseph E. Stiglitz; New York Times, January 6, 2004; available at: www.nytimes.com
- "Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Or Vice Versa: Labor Rights Under Free Trade Agreements from NAFTA, Through Jordan, via Chile, to Latin America, and Beyond;" Marley Weiss, University of San Francisco Law Review, Vol. 37, No. 689 (2003).
- "NAFTAs Untold Stories: Mexicos Grassroots Response to North American Integration;" Timothy A. Wise; Americas Program, Interhemispheric Resource Center; available at: www.americaspolicy.org
- "NAFTA, Foreign Direct Investment, and Sustainable Industrial Development in Mexico;" Lyuba Zarsky and Kevin P. Gallagher; Americas Program, Interhemispheric Resource Center; available at: www.americaspolicy.org
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MAQUILADORA WORKERS, SUPPORTERS RENEW CALL FOR NAFTA REVIEW
Maquiladora workers in the Autotrim and Customtrim auto parts plants on the U.S.-Mexico border and U.S.-based support organizations renewed their demand on March 15, 2004, for participation in the "Tri-National Working Group on Occupational Safety and Health" which was established in 2002 to terminate their 1998 complaint under the "labor side agreement" of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"None of the four existing subcommittees of the Tri-National Working Group are addressing the problems actually encountered by workers on the job, nor the problems encountered when workers have attempted to get government agencies to actually do their jobs. These key issues, described in detail in the complaints and the NAO reports, are totally absent from the Working Groups current generic discussions of best practices, voluntary protection programs, chemical labels, electronic resources and the like," stated the letter from the attorney representing Mexican workers at US-based Breed Technologies Inc. plants in Matamoros and Valle Hermoso, and leaders of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras and the Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network.
"The fifth subcommittee, as we envision it, would have as its central task a thorough examination of the actual NAALC experience since 1994 and what lessons this experience holds for future trade agreements, several of which are now pending approval or are currently in negotiation."
The March 15, 2004, letter is a follow-up to an October 2003 letter making the same request. In December 2003, Canadian Labour Minister Claudette Bradshaw and US Labor Department official Arnold Levine responded to the October letter (all letters are posted at: www.igc.org/mhssn).
Levine said the proposal was "interesting" and promised to "raise the possibility with the Working Groups Mexican and Canadian counterparts." Bradshaw also said her government would "discuss the possibility" of adding workers, employers and non-governmental organizations to the Working Group. But four months later no action has been taken, despite a pending "four year review" of the NAFTA labor side agreement.
"It is simply not acceptable, in our view, that the fifth subcommittee mirror the activity of the four existing subcommittees which consist of government functionaries issuing perfunctory press releases following semi-annual closed door meetings" the March 15th letter stated. "Public seminars which do not address the unexamined issues noted above, and which do not include any of the worker or NGOs submitters of the complaints, do not and cannot address, let alone remedy, the substantial obstacles to enforcement of workplace safety regulations in North America identified by the NAALC process itself.
"Given the public interest in the protection of labor rights and workplace safety in trade agreements members of the U.S. Congress have already communicated with Secretary Chao on several occasions the Tri-National Working Group must address the critical issues raised by the NAALC complaints and the reports of its own NAOs. Moreover, if the NAALC process is to have any credibility with the citizens of North America, it must address the profound disillusionment felt by the workers whose NAO complaints have been resolved by Ministerial Consultations," the workers and supporters wrote Levine and Bradshaw.
Signatories of the March 15th letter are: Monica Schurtman, Associate Professor of the University of Idaho College of Law, who has represented the Breed Technologies workers; Martha Ojeda, Executive Director of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, a tri-national coalition including the Breed workers; and Garrett Brown, Coordinator of our Network, which has provided training and technical assistance to the workers.
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HEALTH & SAFETY TRAINING SET FOR JUNE 2004 IN CHINA
A "training of trainers" on basic occupational health concepts for instructors of a new "community college for migrant workers" in Shenzhen, China, has been set for June 2225, 2004. The college and training are being sponsored by the Institute for Contemporary Observation (ICO) with a grant from the U.S. State Department being administered by the Labor Center at the University of California in Berkeley.
The community college, founded in March 2004, will have three main areas of study English, computer skills, and production management but will also offer "elective courses" on workplace health and safety, womens reproductive health, Chinese and international labor law, and "urban living" skills for rural migrant workers. The colleges student body is expected to be drawn from Shenzhens estimated 8.5 million migrant workers, mostly young, rural women from western China, who live and work in huge factory complexes producing footwear, garments, electronics and toys for the global market.
The training participants will include the Chinese instructors of the ICOs community college faculty who will be teaching the elective courses, and China-based staff members of several labor rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in the Pearl River Delta. The four-day course will center on "popular education" (participatory, interactive) teaching techniques, as well as key concepts of occupational safety and health that can be taught in two-hour segments as an elective class.
A half-day visit to a footwear factory producing for transnational brands is also planned to give the community college instructors, who may not have personal experience working in Chinas giant factories, a glimpse of their students lives, and to practice the workplace hazard recognition skills being taught in the training. Training participants will each receive a 500-page, Chinese-language manual which has been updated since the August 2001 health and safety training organized by the Network in a 30,000-worker sports shoe factory in Dongguan City.
The instructors for the workplace safety course are Betty Szudy of UC Berkeleys Labor Occupational Health Program, Network Coordinator Garrett Brown, and two staff members of Hong Kong University of Science and technology, Christine Chiu and Pak Ip. A second week-long training on labor law, collective bargaining and codes of conduct will be conducted in August 2004 with the same set of participants. The instructors for that session will be Katie Quan, Chair of UC Berkeleys Labor Center, and Professor Dara ORourke of UC Berkeley.
The ICO and UC Berkeleys Labor Center are now preparing a follow-up grant proposal to the U.S. State Department to consolidate the elective course curriculum and to establish "participatory research" projects involving migrant workers on the actual working conditions and implementation of corporate codes of conduct found in the transnational corporations operations in southern China.
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MEXICAN MAQUILA WORKERS CONTINUE TO FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS
Despite all odds continuing economic crisis in Mexico, "factory flight" to Asia, non-responsive government agencies Mexican maquiladora workers continue to fight for their rights on the plant floor and in the international arena. Cross-border solidarity from labor, womens, environmental and community organizations continues to be their strongest ally in the fight for simple justice at work. Three cases are currently at the forefront of these efforts workers at Tarrant Mexico, at Daewoo Orion de Mexico, and at LG Electronics/Haeng Sung.
In June 2003, workers at Tarrant Mexico, a garment manufacturing plant in Ajalpan, Puebla, conducted a work stoppage in order to demand their legally-entitled benefits, better health and safety conditions, and a stop to sexual and verbal harassment at the factory. On June 12, with the help of the Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador (CAT), over two-thirds of the 1,100 workers formed an independent, member-controlled union called SUITTAR. Soon afterwards, eight of the unions leaders were fired and physically removed from the plant. Tarrant management fired more than 500 other SUITTAR supporters over the next five months. Finally, in February 2004, the Tarrant Apparel Group (TAG) announced the closing of the Ajalpan plant and provided only 60% of the legally-required severance pay to the remaining 600 workers who were laid off.
The Tarrant workers have been aided by the independent, Puebla-based Human and Labor Rights Commission which succeeded in pressuring Tarrant and local labor board authorities to provide severance payments to fired and laid off workers that are close to what is required by Mexicos Federal Labor Law. In December 2003, Martin Barrios, coordinator of the Commission, was physically assaulted outside his home in what appears to have been a pre-meditated effort to intimidate Barrios and Tarrant workers. The attack came in the context of the August 2003 assassination of another supporter of independent labor union in Puebla, lawyer Griselda Tirado Evangelio.
The TAG, which produces for prominent clothing lines in the United States, including West Seal, Express, The Limited and Levis, has been the focus of an international campaign to support basic labor rights. As part of this campaign, the United Students Against Sweatshops in the U.S. helped the Tarrant workers file a complaint under the NAFTA labor side agreement. A public hearing on the NAFTA complaint was held in Washington, D.C., on April 1, 2004, and members of SUITTAR and CAT testified.
Of the U.S. retailers of Tarrant products, only Levis stepped forward to attempt to force its supplier to comply with Mexican labor laws. As a result of Levis efforts, Tarrant unilaterally ended its contracts with Levis. Campaigners are now focused on Wet Seal and The Limited which continue to sell TAG-produced garments, which are made in conditions violating Mexican law and the retailers own "corporate codes of conduct."
Further details of the case can be found at the websites of Sweatshop Watch (www.sweatshopwatch.org) and Canadas Maquila Solidarity Network (www.maquilasolidarity.org).
The Daewoo Orion de Mexico (DOMEX) factory in Mexicali has 800 workers producing TV monitors for the U.S. market for a Korean transnational corporation. For the past four years, workers have not received any wage increases, and there has been a dramatic speed-up of production resulting in increased job injuries on the plant floor.
In October 2003, 40 Daewoo workers formed an independent union and filed the necessary paperwork with the local Labor Board. Soon afterward, Daewoo management began to harass workers who had signed onto the union, taking away bonus points for punctuality, productivity, attendance and "loyalty" which resulted a wage cut of 200 pesos per month, a significant loss of income considering the plants low wages. The Mexicali Labor Board has refused to act on the October 2003 petition for legal status by the independent union, even though the Board is legally required to act within 60 days after a petition is filed.
When workers began protesting these actions, and organizing for the independent union, they were fired. The firings included five key leaders of the union, including the interim general secretary, interim organizing director, interim recording secretary, and two members of the interim executive committee.
Together with other maquila workers in the Mexicali region, the Daewoo workers have formed a new organization the Movement for Freedom and Labor Rights for Workers in the Maquiladora Industry (MOTDELTIM). The goal of the new umbrella organization is secure for maquila workers the same rights in practice that workers in other Mexican workplaces enjoy. The MOTDELTIM has called on trade unions and human rights supporters in the U.S. and elsewhere to support their struggle for independent unions and labor rights.
An international campaign on the Daewoo workers behalf has already produced a victory. On March 11, 2004, the Mexicali Labor Board heard a claim by the independent unions interim general secretary, Juan Carlos Espinoza Bravo, that he had been unjustly fired. After receiving numerous messages from the U.S. and other countries, and in the presence of a large number of fired Daewoo workers, the Labor Board ruled that the firing had been a "misunderstanding." The Board ordered Espinozas reinstatement and he returned to work the next day.
Each of the other fired union leaders are to have their unjust firing claims heard by the Labor Board in the next month. The five workers are seeking back pay, as they have been off work for seven months, and were blacklisted in Mexicali preventing them from finding work in other maquilas. The Daewoo workers are still fighting to legalize their independent union.
Additional information on the Daewoo workers union and MOLDETIM are available from email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org .
Another Korean electronics multinational LG Electronics has a TV factory in Reynosa, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville, Texas. LG Electronics produces televisions under the brand names of Zenith, LG and Electra, which are sold in the U.S.
Late last year, LG transferred 350 workers, all the employees in four departments, to a company called Haeng Sung (HS). On January 23, 2004, HS promised the local Labor Board that it would respect the seniority, past wage scales and former positions of the workers, and the collective bargaining agreement that existed between LG Electronics and an "official" union of the Mexican Confederation of Workers (CTM) site.
HS has reneged on its pledge and officials of the CTM union have informed HS workers that they have to start all over again, losing accumulated seniority with LG Electronics, which amounted to as much as 20 years of service in many cases. In addition, the workers discovered that HS has cancelled their legally-required health care coverage with the government social security agency (IMSS).
Most of the workers with twenty years of service earn 71 pesos (about $7) for an eight-hour day at the TV factory. Workers with less seniority earn even less in wages. Plant #13 where they have been transferred is reported to have numerous health and safety hazards. Workers solder without local exhaust ventilation systems and respirators provided to some workers are inadequate and not maintained. Workers use various types of glues and solvents which have strong odors and leave their hands bleached and roughened.
Workers have reported adverse health effects including headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue. Some workers believe that they have become addicted to the glues and believe that workplace exposures are the cause of reported miscarriages.
The HS workers are demanding that HS either fulfill the terms of the last contract between LG Electronics and the CTM union; or pay the legally-required severance pay to workers who have been involuntarily transferred from LG Electronics to Haeng Sung.
On February 14, 2004, HS workers attempted to meet with the governor of the state of Tamaulipas, where the factory is located, to present their case and call for implementation of Mexican labor law. However, the governor would only issue a statement that he would ask the state workplace health and safety agency to inspect the facility.
Workers had elected representatives to meet with the governor and with the company, but HS is reportedly threatening to fire these workers if they continue their efforts. HS workers are asking for international support with messages to the CEOs of LG Electronics and Haeng Sung.
Additional information is available from the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras at: www.coalitionforjustice.net/id32.html and email@example.com
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KEY NEW REPORTS ON GLOBAL SWEATSHOPS
In addition to the numerous new resources posted on the Networks website (www.igc.org/mhssn) the following list includes key reports, papers and analysis that have been issued in the last six months:
- "AFL-CIO Section 301 Petition Against China;" AFL-CIO suit seeking trade action against China for repression of Chinese workers and loss of U.S. jobs; March 16, 2004; available at: www.aflcio.org
- "Clean Up Your Computer; Working conditions in the electronics sector;" CAFOD (UK) report; January 2004; available at: www.cafod.org.uk
- "Global Inequalities at Work; Works impact on the health of individuals, families, and societies;" Jody Heymann, editor; Harvard University Press, 2003.
- "A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All;" The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, International Labor Organization; February 2004; available at: www.ilo.org
- "2003 Year End Review: Emerging trends in codes and their implementation;" Maquila Solidarity Network (Canada), Codes Memo #16, January/February 2004; available at: www.maquilasolidarity.org
- "Trading Away Our Rights; Women working in global supply chains;" Oxfam International; February 2004; available at: www.oxfam.org
- "Respect Workers Rights in the Sportswear Industry;" Play Fair at the Olympics campaign; March 2004; available at: www.fairolympics.org
- "Unfair Trade; Mexicos Agricultural Crisis: How Free Trade, the United States and Transnational Corporations Made It Happen; Public Citizen and the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE); November 2003; available at: www.citizen.org and www.gracelinks.org
- "Challenges in China: Experiences from Two CCC Pilot Projects on Monitoring and Verification of Code Compliance;" Nina Ascoly and Ineke Zeldenrust; SOMO Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations; October 2003; available at: www.somo.nl
- "Considering Complaint Mechanisms: An Important Tool for Code Monitoring and Verification;" Nina Ascoly and Ineke Zeldenrust; SOMO Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations; December 2003; available at: www.somo.nl
- "Globalization & the Apparel Industry; Analysis, Studies and Reports;" Sweatshop Watch; November 2003; available at: www.sweatshopwatch.org/global
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- A new global anti-sweatshop campaign called "Play Fair at the Olympics" was launched in March 2004 in the run-up to the Athens Summer Olympic Games in August. The drive has been organized by a coalition of organizations including the European Clean Clothes Campaign, Oxfam offices in many parts of the world, and the international trade union federation Global Unions. "The global sportswear industrys using ruthless tactics to produce the latest fashions, made cheaper and faster, and ever more punishing deadlines. In order to deliver, suppliers are forcing their employees to work longer and harder, denying them fundamental workers rights. These women and men endure long hours, low wages, harsh working conditions, face extreme job insecurity and are typically prevented from exercising their right to join and form trade unions," stated the organizers. More information available at: www.fairolympics.org
- Workers in Los Angeles producing garments for Fashion 21, known by its label "Forever 21," won an important court victory with important ramifications on March 10th. The Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco reinstated a lawsuit by 19 garment workers who contended that Forever 21 was legally responsible for the sweatshop conditions under which they made clothes for the popular private label retailer. "The decision sends a message that retailers like Forever 21 who create, perpetuate and demand sweatshop labor could ultimately be held responsible for workplace abuses," noted attorneys for the workers, "Retailers exercise tremendous power over the garment production process and then turn a blind eye to workplaces abuses." More information available at: www.sweatshopwatch.org
- Sweatshop Watch has launched a new information "Clearinghouse on Globalization and the Apparel Industry" at www.sweatshopwatch.org/global . The website contains reports and news articles on free trade, workforce development and other related topics, including a Sweatshop Watch working paper entitled "Free Trades Looming Threat to the Worlds Garment Workers."
- Late last year the Comite Fronterizo de Obreras/os (CFO) initiated a website with valuable reports of working conditions on the borders, current CFO activities and campaigns, and information about other aspects of life on the frontier. The Spanish-language website is located at: www.cfomaquiladoras.org
- Also last fall the Grupo de Monitoreo Independiente de El Salvador (GMIES) established a website with an "Observatory of Maquiladoras and Free Trade" with useful information about working conditions in maquilas in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. It will be tracking the impact of the CAFTA treaty (assuming it is approved by all parties) on Central American society and workplaces. The Spanish-language website is located at: www.gmies.org.sv
- In November 2003 City University of Hong Kong researcher Stephen Frost began a new "online database of news about workers in Southeast Asia and China and the issues that affect them." The website is an invaluable source of news and analysis about working conditions in China and the rest of Asia. "Asian Labour News" can be accessed at: www.asianlabour.org
- The April 2004 issue of "Occupational Hazards" magazine ran an article by Network Coordinator Garrett Brown on workplace hazards in the global economy as part of a special issue on vulnerable workers in the U.S. and global economies. The article can be accessed at: www.occcupationalhazards.com/articles/11630
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QUOTES OF THE MONTH
"For retail giants like Wal-Mart, government-subsidized American agricultural businesses and Americas biggest makers of automobiles and automotive parts, borderless trade meant bigger profits for themselves and their stockholders. But the benefits of stable prices and rising 401 (k)s are largely invisible compared with the blight of a shuttered factory. The consumers of the United States or Mexico or Canada are also each nations workers, farmers and small town residents, and NAFTA left many with lower consumer costs at the expense of their old way of life
Were the losers, said Bonnie Long, one of at least a half a million American manufacturing workers who lost their jobs due to NAFTA, despite the surge in trade. We lost our health care, our living wages. The winners are the corporate executives who dont even live here and can located their factories wherever they find the cheapest labor."
Tim Weiner, "Free Trade Accord at 10: Growing Pains are Clear," New York Times, December 27, 2003.
"So its come to this: When European employers look to the United States, they see roughly the same thing that U.S. employers see when they look to China: millions of low-wage workers who have all but lost the right to organize and a government intent on keeping things just the way they are. The erosion of worker power and the growth of employer supremacy here have transformed the bottom half of the U.S. workforce into a vast exploitable mass worthy of a colonial backwater."
Harold Myerson, "Europes Cheap U.S. Labor," Washington Post, November 26, 2003.
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MAJOR REPORTS AND NEW RESOURCES ON GLOBAL WORKPLACES
There continues to be a river of informational and analytical reports on working conditions in the worlds 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.
Because the number of reports in the six months since the last newsletter has grown so large, the listing is being posted directly on the network website (www.igc.org/mhssn) so as to keep the newsletter as brief as possible. The April 2004 listing is posted in the page called "Reading and Resource Lists," and it includes reports, articles and electronic resources on the United States, Mexico, China, factory reports from around the world, occupational safety and health, and globalization issues.
Included below, however, is a brief list of some of the reports and articles about the Central America Free Trade Agreement, currently before the U.S. Congress, which will have a major impact on maquiladora operations in Mexico as well as other parts of the global economy.
CAFTA Central America Free Trade Agreement
- Draft Text of the Central American Free Trade Agreement and summary of key aspects; United States Trade Representative; December 2003; available at: www.ustr.gov
- "Labor Standards, Development and CAFTA;" Kimberly Ann Elliot, Institute for International Economics; March 2004; available at" www.iie.org
- "CAFTA: Free Trade vs. Democracy;" Mark Engler, Americas Program, Interhemispheric Resource Center; January 30, 2003, available at: www.americaspolicy.org
- "Labor Rights Protections in CAFTA;" Human Rights Watch; October 2003; available at: www.hrw.org
- "CAFTAs Weak Labor Rights Protections: Why the Present Accord Should be Opposed;" Human Rights Watch; March 2004; available at: www.hrw.org
- "CAFTA: Few Benefits, Many Costs;" Vincent McElhinny, Americas Program, Interhemispheric Resource Center; January 29, 2004; available at: www.americaspolicy.org
- "How CAFTA Will Undermine Access to Essential Medicines;" Robert Weissman, Essential Action; March 2004; available at: www.essentialaction.org
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END OF NEWSLETTER VOL. VIII, NO. 1 APRIL 12, 2004
May 4, 2004
(1) NAFTA Reports:
Two key reports on the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement were left off the "short list" published in the newsletter. No doubt there are and will be new reports meriting mention, but these are the first of the continuing list:
- "Lessons from NAFTA: The High Cost of Free Trade," by the Hemispheric Social Alliance Common Frontiers, Alliance for Responsible Trade, and the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade; published by the Canadian Centre on Policy Alternatives, November 2003; available at: www.policyalternatives.ca
- "How Green is NAFTA? Measuring the impacts of agricultural trade," by Scott Vaughan; Environment, Vol. 46, No. 2, March 2004.
(2) Correction on Tarrant Apparel Group Struggle:
The US/Labor Education in the Americas Project (US/LEAP) wrote to correct a misconception in the newsletter article on the struggle of Mexican garment workers fighting for their rights at the Tarrant Apparel Group in Puebla, Mexico. Several US-based retailers have played positive roles in the battle to date, not only Levis but also The Limited and Charming Shoppes. For further information, please check US/LEAPs website at: www.usleap.org
(3) Final Report of Guatemala Training Released
The Final Report from the September 2003 training in Antigua, Guatemala, has just been released by our Network. The report was written by Michele Gonzalez Arroyo with assistance from the other members of the 5-person team of instructors. The full report has been posted on the Network website: www.igc.org/mhssn .
The Executive Summary of the report is as follows:
"This report describes a health and safety training conducted in Guatemala in September 2003. The main goals of the training were (a) to build the capacity of the independent monitoring organizations to conduct more rigorous evaluations of health and safety conditions in the maquiladora plants in Central America, and (b) to increase the understanding of health and safety issues among non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working closely with maquila workers in the region, especially in the garment and textile sector. The project, funded by the International Labor Rights Fund (IRLF) in Washington, DC, was a partnership between the Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network (MHSSN), the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at the University of California at Berkeley, and the Regional Initiative for Social Responsibility and Decent Work (IRSTD Iniciativa Regional para la Responsibilidad Social y el Trabajo Digno). The host organization was COVERCO (Comisión de Verificación de Códigos de Conducta), an independent monitoring group in Guatemala.
"The four-day training included 29 participants from four independent monitoring groups, three trade unions and eight womens and human rights organizations from the five Central American countries. A team of five instructors from MHSSN and LOHP carried out three days of classroom activities featuring interactive, popular education-style teaching methods and one field day exercise in a working garment factory. Topics were presented using small group exercises, role plays, games, and visual demonstrations that required the participants to see, hear, apply and evaluate the information.
"The fourth day of the training 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. During the plant walk-around, participants interviewed workers and supervisors, monitored noise levels, evaluated ergonomic and ventilation problems, and checked for electrical hazards. The findings and recommendations of the participants from the factory inspection were later transmitted to Shin Won managers by the training instructors.
"Planning for the training lasted over six months, and included a needs assessment of the participants several months prior to the training and the development of a 500-page Spanish-language raining manual. An electronic follow-up survey was sent out six months after the training. Participants and/or their organizations were asked to explain how they had used the information from the training, and to give their suggestions or ideas for a follow-up training.
"Pre- and post-training questionnaires showed a 65% increase in the number of participants who felt confident that they could conduct their own health and safety inspections. Immediately following the training, participants evaluated the course content. They felt the most useful topics and activities were chemical hazards (68%), hazard control methods (44%), and the field day in the Shin Won factory (36%).
"An electronic follow-up survey was sent to participants six months after the training. In this evaluation in March 2004, all 12 participants that responded to the survey noted that they used the information from the workshop in their work as independent monitors or activists. One participant described how she used the information to develop two informational brochures on chemical safety and general industrial safety for maquila workers.
"All responses indicated an interest in follow-up training. Specific ideas for follow-up included more in-depth coverage of the same topics as presented at the Antigua training. One participant suggested that the follow-up training include a formal evaluation to assess the most recent knowledge acquired by the participants.
"Hands-on trainings of this type are important for raising the occupational health and safety awareness of independent monitoring organizations and non-governmental organizations that work directly with maquiladora workers. As a result of training, monitors can increase the rigor and sophistication of their evaluations of health and safety conditions as part of their broader labor rights inspections of maquiladora plants in Central America. In addition, participating NGOs serving maquiladora workers can better integrate health and safety information and issues into their ongoing research, workshops with workers, and advocacy campaigns."
END OF ADDENDUM
May 4, 2004
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