Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter
February 8, 2005
Volume IX, 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
Second Guatemala Training Strengthens Labor Rights Groups
Network Issues Two Major Reports on NAFTA, Trade Agreements
APHA Launches "Working Group on Trade & Health"
University of Oregon Conference on Globalization and OHS
Planning for the World Safety Congress
Renewed Project in China Targets Effective Worker Protections
Maquiladora Workers Continue To Battle for their Rights
Quotes of the Month
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, to 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 February 2005
The global economy changed significantly on January 1st when the 30-year-old Multi-Fiber Agreement (MFA) began a rapid phase-out of production quotas for garments that allocated imports into the U.S. market. The MFA had the effect of guaranteeing production from a number of developing countries as transnational clothing companies and their contractors scoured the world to take advantage of the tax-free quotas provided to various producing countries.
There have been a large number of reports and analyses written on the anticipated impact of the end of the MFA (see partial list below). All the details will not be known, of course, until it happens in real life. But the "smart money" is on China as the big winner in the post-MFA, global reshuffling of production as China not only offers low wages, long hours and a controlled workforce, but also the "full package" of cloth, thread, button and zipper manufacturing.
The biggest losers are likely to be South and Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Indonesia. International garment corporations and contractors will likely consolidate their sourcing into as few countries as possible, while maintaining multiple sources to avoid reliance on a single source. Mexico and Central American countries are likely to keep significant amounts of production because their location and faster shipping and turn-around times.
What this all means for working conditions in garment factories also remains to be seen, although there are many predictions in the reports. The end of the MFA will certainly accelerate the "race to the bottom" for lowest possible production costs. The transnationals will have all the power they need to extort lower wages and longer hours, higher government subsidies and reduced regulatory enforcement from the countries, regions and cities desperately competing against one another for jobs and investment.
Another, more optimistic, take on the global realignment is that fewer sources of productions will give workers in those plants relatively more power than before in that there are fewer immediate sourcing alternatives. The impact of both internal corporate social responsibility programs and external anti-sweatshop campaigns could be larger with fewer, more stable and public sources.
One interesting change on the ground in China is although its too early to declare that "the partys over" the days of "passive, endlessly exploitable Chinese workers" may be on the way out. Over the last six months a growing number of major newspaper articles have chronicled scores of wildcat strikes in shoe, garment and toy factories in China, many working for transnational corporations. Even migrant workers from western China have "voted with their feet" against the brutal and unsafe working conditions in the Pearl River Delta by looking for work elsewhere, and thereby creating a significant labor shortage and slightly rising wages in the giant factory complexes on Chinas southeastern coast.
The seriousness of this new challenge to the dominant "development model" promoted by the Chinese government and its corporate partners was reflected in abrupt cancellation of a highly publicized "labor rights in China" conference to be held in Guangzhou at the end of 2004. The conference, supported by some transnational corporations, key labor rights non-governmental organizations inside and outside China, and the global trade union movement, was to address the critical issues of freedom of association, violations of wage and hour laws, and discrimination issues. At the very last moment, the Chinese government cancelled the conference and revoked the visas of international participants, including labor officials like John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO.
So in China there is an explosive mixture brewing of intense exploitation; growing grassroots resistance, even among vulnerable migrant workers; and increasing international support for implementing Chinas national labor laws and international labor standards to protect the rights, health and safety of workers.
As a result there continues to be new and on-going opportunities for occupational health professionals to work in collaboration with labor rights groups and the workers they are assisting in China, and in other countries affected by the end of the MFA. As noted below, the Network is beginning another project in China this spring and is in discussions with groups on the U.S.-Mexico border and Central America.
Members of our Network have a special opportunity to work with the Central American Regional Initiative for Social Responsibility and Decent Work (IRSTD) which is conducting region-wide factory evaluations and would welcome the participation of occupational professionals as technical advisers and inspection teams members.
Anyone interested in working on one or another of these projects should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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SECOND GUATEMALA TRAINING STRENGTHENS LABOR RIGHTS GROUPS
In December 2004 in Guatemala City, Guatemala, a follow-up training with regional independent monitoring groups and Guatemalan maquiladora unions solidified their grasp of key workplace health and safety concepts and laid the basis for the next step in protecting workers in Central Americas 900 maquiladora plants. The training was a follow-up event to a workshop conducted in September 2003 in Antigua, Guatemala, with many of the same participating organizations.
The four-day training included 22 participants from independent monitoring groups, trade unions and NGOs from the five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. A team of three instructors from our Network and the San Jose, Costa Rica office of the International Labor Organization (ILO) 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 1,100-worker plant operated by an Asian corporation that 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 training instructors later submitted the findings and recommendations of the participants from the field day to the plants managers, and to Gap Inc. which helped facilitate access to the factory that produces for the Gap among other retailers.
The project was funded by General Service Foundation (Aspen, CO), the International Labor Rights Fund (Washington, DC) and the Arca Foundation (Washington, DC). The events sponsors were COVERCO (Comisión de Verificación de Códigos de Conducta), an independent monitoring group in Guatemala and the Network, with participation from the ILO. The instructors were Michele Gonzalez Arroyo and Garrett Brown from the Network and Valentina Forastieri from the ILO. The 500-page Spanish-language training manual is available for purchase from UC Berkeleys Labor Occupational Health Program (email@example.com).
The 22 training participants came from four independent monitoring groups, two trade unions, two womens rights organization, and one research NGO from the five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. The countries and organizations that participated included:
- monitoring organizations COVERCO from Guatemala, GMIES from El Salvador, EMIH from Honduras, and PASE from Nicaragua;
- trade unions at the CHOISHIN and CIMATEXTILES garment maquiladoras in Guatemala (these are the only two unions in Guatemalas 250-factory maquila sector);
- womens rights organizations Maria Elena Cuadra (MEC) from Nicaragua, and CIPAF from the Dominican Republic; and
- the ASEPROLA research center in Costa Rica.
The groups affiliated with the Regional Initiative for Social Responsibility and Decent Work in Central America (IRSTD), are COVERCO, GMIES, EMIH, PASE, ASEPROLA, and CIPAF.
Pre- and post-training questionnaires showed a 64% increase among first-time participants who felt confident they could now conduct their own health and safety inspections. Participants taking the workshop for the second time had a high confidence level coming into the workshop (67%), but by the end of the workshop this level increased to 86%. Immediately following the training, participants evaluated the course content. They felt the most useful topics and activities were workers rights (56%) and chemical hazards (56%), followed by stress/harassment in the workplace (33%).
The nine participants that completed the first training in September 2003 were asked how they or their organizations have applied the information and skills obtained in the first event. All of these participants responded that they used the new skills gained in the workshop in their ongoing factory inspections as independent monitors, and by providing more in-depth training or educational materials to maquiladora workers.
The evaluation indicated that the two training workshops had met the key objectives of building 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 increasing the understanding of health and safety issues among community-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and unions representing maquila workers in the region.
Among the follow-up activities now under consideration is a "training of trainers" workshop to consolidate the knowledge and confidence of participants in the previous two events so that they can expand the worker and NGO trainings on workplace hazards and controls that they are already conducting throughout the region.
Members of our Network have a particularly interesting opportunity to assist the IRSTD regional network as technical advisers in future factory inspections. Over the last year the monitoring groups have conducted joint inspections involving staff from two or more of the groups during the initial walk-throughs of new plants being monitored in various countries in Central America. The IRSTD is open to having members of our Network join the inspection team of future joint factory evaluations as volunteer technical advisers in occupational health and safety under the direction of the IRSTD.
Any Network member interested in joining an IRSTD inspection team in Central America in the future should contact coordinator Garrett Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the details.
The final report of the December 2004 training, as well as that of the September 2003 workshop, is posted at the Networks website: www.igc.org/mhssn .
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NETWORK ISSUES TWO MAJOR REPORTS ON NAFTA, TRADE AGREEMENTS
On the 10th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the pending consideration of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), our Network has issued two major reports on the actual experience of protecting workers health and safety in Mexico under NAFTA, and what is needed in international trade and investment agreements to genuinely protect workplace health and safety.
"NAFTA's 10 Year Failure to Protect Mexican Workers' Health and Safety," an 18-page report which includes photographs by award-winning photojournalist David Bacon and photos from the tri-national Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, as well as three data tables. The report includes a detailed analysis and chronology of two key complaints the Han Young and Auto Trim/Custom Trim cases filed under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), the NAFTA "labor side agreement."
The workplace health and safety complaints filed under the NAALC illustrate that Mexican government agencies systematically failed to enforce their regulations and did not ensure compliance by the U.S.-based transnational corporations who took full advantage of NAFTA to expand operations to more than 3,700 maquiladoras employing 1.3 million Mexican workers at their peak in 2001.
None of the labor rights of maquiladora workers from the right to organize independent, member-controlled unions to adequate workers compensation to safe and healthful workplaces were protected by the NAALC due to inherent weaknesses of the agreement, a lack of political will to implement either the letter or the spirit of the agreement, and the economic disincentives for Mexico in enforcement of labor rights that would "discourage foreign investment."
During 10-year history of NAFTA, there have been 28 complaints submitted to the NAOs of the three NAFTA countries. Eighteen of these were accepted and investigated by the NAOs and 12 submissions went to the second step and were "resolved" by Ministerial Consultations. No NAALC submission has gotten beyond the second step of the seven steps, and it has taken several years for each complaint to reach that point.
Of the 28 cases submitted to the NAOs, seven have involved, in part or as the sole issue, allegations of non-enforcement of occupational safety and health regulations. Two of the most developed cases were U.S. NAO Submission 9702 Part II, concerning the Han Young de México plant in Tijuana, and U.S. NAO Submission 2000-01 concerning the Auto Trim plant in Matamoros and the Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana #2 plant in Valle Hermoso.
The resolution of worker complaints to date have all stopped at reports, seminars, conferences, websites, and outreach sessions. Not a single illegally fired worker has been reinstated, not a single independent union has been established and bargained collectively, not a single workplace hazard has been corrected as a result of NAFTA and the NAALC.
This NAALC record contrasts sharply with the "investor protection" provisions of Chapter 11 of NAFTA. Chapter 11 allows corporations to sue NAFTA governments whose laws or policies, such as those to protect environmental health, the corporations believe have limited or prevented corporate profits. Since 1994, twenty-seven Chapter 11 suits have been filed by TNCs and the results of these complaints have included the payment of $16.7 million by the Mexican government to a U.S.-based transnational corporation.
The report is in down-loadable PDF format at: http://mhssn.igc.org/NAFTA_2004.pdf
The second report is entitled "Why NAFTA Failed and What's Need to Protect Workers' Health and Safety in International Trade Treaties." The 15-page report contains five data tables and extensive references.
The report describes the new context of the global economy. Manufacturing in a growing number of industrial sectors has shifted from relatively high wage, well-regulated, frequently unionized workplaces in the developed world to low wage, non-union and basically unregulated workplaces in the developing world, all of which are in intense competition with one another for investment and jobs.
The organization of production has also changed from multinational corporations owning and operating their own production facilities around the world to long, vertical supply chains of different types of producers. This chain starts with the multinational corporation which orders and sells the product, and runs through those who actually manufacture the product from contractors, to subcontractors, to brokers and agents, to industrial homework in workers homes.
At every point in this chain, employers are under intense pressures from financial markets to produce the highest possible, short-term financial results. Employer expenditures to protect workers health and safety are therefore minimized, despite the long term payback in product quality and reduced production costs of investing in safe workplaces.
Governments in the developing world often are without adequate regulations and/or without the financial, technical and human resources needed to enforce whatever regulations do exist. Often these governments enforcement efforts are undermined by extensive corruption. Many governments, dependent on foreign investment for debt payments and economic development, do not have the political will to develop or enforce labor rights protections, including workplace safety.
The growing inequality and poverty in the developing world, where production facilities have moved, has created a class of workers who are so desperate that they cannot refuse any work, no matter how dangerous and unhealthy. Almost all of these workers are without union protection and cannot exercise their rights on any level.
In addition, the International Labor Organization has reported that at least 43 million workers are employed in scores of "export processing zones," including maquiladoras, around the globe. In a dozen countries, workplace health regulations along with other labor rights are explicitly suspended and non-applicable in these zones.
NAFTA failed to protect workers health and safety due to the weaknesses of the side agreements text; the political and diplomatic considerations limiting its implementation; and the failure to recognize and address the economic context, and political consequences of this context, in which the agreement was implemented. Subsequent trade treaties, both bilateral and regional, have not overcome the weaknesses of NAFTA.
The treaty components needed to protect workers health in future trade agreements are: 1) a minimum floor of occupational health and safety regulations; 2) an "upward harmonization" of regulatory standards and actual practice; 3) inclusion of employers so that they have formal responsibility and liability for violations of the standards; 4) effective enforcement of national regulations and international standards; 5) transparency and public participation; and 6) recognition of disparate economic conditions among trading partners and provision of financial and technical assistance to overcome economic disincentives and lack of resources. Also required are continued actions by non-governmental actors, including the workers themselves and civil society organizations.
The report is in down-loadable PDF format at: http://mhssn.igc.org/trade_2004.pdf
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APHA LAUNCHES "WORKING GROUP IN TRADE & HEALTH"
The American Public Health Association (APHA) has launched a "Working Group on Trade & Health" to educate its own members on the adverse impacts of current and proposed international trade agreements, to communicate these concerns to Congress during consideration of free trade agreements, and to demand that public health advocates are included in the "trade advisory committees" established by the U. S. Trade Representatives office.
In November 2004, APHA Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin convened a group of active members to consider the formation of an ad-hoc working group to be led by three of the 30,000-member associations internal "sections" the International Health, Medical Care and Occupational Health and Safety sections.
The initiative is the brainchild of Ellen Shaffer, a member of the APHA Medical Care Section and coordinator of the Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health (CPATH). The CPATH website (www.cpath.org) has a tremendous amount of information and analysis on trade agreements and their impact on a wide variety of public health issues. Shaffer co-authored a major article in the January 2005 issue of the American Journal of Public Health summarizing the key aspects of the issue.
Since November 2004, the Working Group has grown to include two other sections Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs, and the Environmental Health sections and more sections and state affiliates are interested in joining the effort. Two conference calls have been conducted, with a third proposed for early March, and the working group was discussed at the January 2005 meeting of the APHA Executive Board.
Activities being organized at this point include presentations for the November 2005 APHA annual meeting in New Orleans, mobilizing APHA members to contact their Congressional and the U.S. Trade representatives offices, and outreach to other public health organizations in the U.S. and internationally. Network coordinator Garrett Brown, representing the OHS Section, has taken the lead in convening the conference calls. For more information on the Working Group, please contact Brown at email@example.com.
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UNIVERSITY OF OREGON CONFERENCE ON GLOBALIZATION AND OHS
"Workplace Health and Safety in the Global Economy" is the theme of a major conference at the Labor Education and Research Center of the University of Oregon in Eugene, on April 29-30th. The gathering, co-sponsored by our Network, will bring together labor rights organizations from Mexico, Central America and Asia with occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals from North America.
The goal of the conference is to highlight the efforts of grassroots organizations to protect workers health in safety in maquiladoras and "export processing zones" around the world, and to build bridges of communication and collaboration between these groups and OHS professionals. Senior managers will present the experiences of the corporate social responsibility departments of clothing retailer Gap Inc. and chemical producer Rohm and Haas as well. Professor Harley Shaiken of UC Berkeley will give a keynote address on alternatives to corporate-led globalization.
Labor rights organization speakers include Monina Wong of the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee; Julia Quinonez of the Mexican Comite Fronterizo de Obreras, and Homero Fuentes of the COVERCO monitoring group in Guatemala. OHS professionals speaking include Ellen Rosskam of the International Labor Organization; Linda Delp of the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program; Maggie Robbins of the Hesperian Foundation; and Cathy Walker, Safety Director of the Canadian Auto Workers union. Worker and OHS project speakers from Bangladesh, Nicaragua and the Philippines will also be presenting.
Our Network will be represented by coordinator Garrett Brown who will present the 12-year experience of the Network on the U.S.-Mexico border, Central America, Indonesia and China. Our hopes for this event are to further link OHS professionals and organizations with union and community-based worker organizations in a joint effort to build the capacity of workers to understand health and safety concepts and to speak and act in their own defense.
Full information on the program and registration is available on the conference website: www.uoregon.edu/~lerc/olshep/globaleconconf.htm.
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PLANNING FOR THE WORLD SAFETY CONGRESS
The XVIIth World Congress on Safety and Health at Work will be held for the first time in the United States in Orlando, FL, on September 18-22, 2005. The every-three year gathering is co-sponsored by the International Labor Organization (ILO), the International Social Security Association (ISSA) and U.S. organizations including the U.S. Department of Labor (OSHA and MSHA) and the National Safety Council (NSC), which is the national host organization. The Congress has four main themes: Impact of globalization: opportunities and risks; Leadership in safety and health; Challenges in a changing world of work; and Prevention.
Network coordinator Garrett Brown was invited to participate in a meeting in Washington, DC, in September 2004 at the headquarters of the Organization of American States to review the conference agenda and proposed speakers. Brown will be speaking at the conference on the theme of globalizations impact on workers.
Given the meetings location, a special effort was proposed at the September 2004 meeting to bring participants from the Americas, including grassroots level organizations as well as government officials and corporate managers. Conference organizers have established a financial aid process for a limited number of scholarships and application forms are available at the conference website: www.safety2005.org. Applications requesting scholarships should be submitted immediately.
In addition to trade unionists, primarily from Europe, a small number of grassroots labor rights organizations will be speaking at the event, including organizations from Mexico, Guatemala and China. Our Network is working with conference organizers to set a time and place for an official meeting for labor rights groups (unions and non-governmental organizations) to interact with occupational health professionals in both NGOs and governments. The goal is establish communication and possible collaborative projects between the labor rights groups and OHS professionals around the world.
Complete information on the program and financial aid available is posted on the conference website.
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RENEWED PROJECT IN CHINA TARGETS EFFECTIVE WORKER PROTECTIONS
The Labor Center at UC Berkeley has received funding for a year-long project to identify and support effective strategies and grassroots-level activities to protect the rights and health of workers in China, especially in the Pearl River Delta where millions of migrant workers from western China work in huge factories producing consumer goods for the United States market. This project is a hold-over from a 2004 effort that was terminated due to financial and organizational problems with the original Chinese partnering organization.
Our Network will be part of the project and will focus on workplace safety and health aspects and the implementation of protections required by Chinese law by both national and international employers. The initial steps of the project will be a needs assessment trip in late March to meet with labor rights organizations in China and Hong Kong, to be followed by a larger workshop in June with groups from throughout the Pearl River Delta and other parts of China.
These activities will involve many of the organizations that participated in the Networks 2001 workplace safety training in Dongguan City, as well as reaching out to new non-governmental organizations and Chinese universities. Also involved in the project is UC Berkeleys Labor Occupational Health Program, which contributed instructors and materials to the 2001 event.
Network members interested in participating in possible future activities in China should contact coordinator Garrett Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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MAQUILADORA WORKERS CONTINUE TO BATTLE FOR THEIR RIGHTS
GILDAN ACTIVEWEAR, El Progresso, Honduras: In a rare victory for maquiladora workers in the Americas, Canadian T-shirt manufacturer Gildan Activewear agreed in January 2005 to a corrective action plan that, if fully implemented, will go a long way toward repairing the damage caused by Gildans decisions to fire approximately 80 union supporters in 2002 and 2003, and then to close its El Progresso factory in Honduras during an investigation of worker complaints by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).
The Canadian Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) has been leading an international campaign in support of the Gildan workers in Progresso since 2003. A key element in the plan is Gildans commitment to open a new sewing factory in Choloma, Honduras by the end of March 2005, and to give first-hire preference to former Gildan El Progresso workers, including fired union supporters.
The key to success in the Gildan case, much like the Kukdong/MEXMODE case in Mexico, was a "prefect storm" of pressure from the workers themselves, supported by the independent monitoring group in Honduras, EMIH, the MSN and other anti-sweatshop organizations in North America, as well as pressure from the WRC, which conducted a full-scale investigation of the issues in Honduras, and from the FLA, of which Gildan was a member but had been told it would be expelled if it did not correct its violations of freedom of association rights.
For the full background, chronology and investigative reports on the Gildan case, please visit the websites of the MSN (www.maquilasolidarity,org), Workers Rights Consortium (www.workersrights.org) and the Fair Labor Association (www.fairlabor.org)
INDUSTRIA FRONTERIZA, Tijuana, Mexico: After more than two and a half years of legal and political battles, illegally fired workers at Industria Fronteriza were supposed to confiscate part of the plants equipment on December 7, 2004. The legally ordered action is needed to pay four fired workers their legally-required severance pay of $52,000. The confiscation could not occur because two Tijuana Labor Board attorneys, required to be present, suddenly reported they were "sick" and not able to physically appear at the plant.
The lack of the Labor Board attorneys was not the only obstacle the workers faced on Dec. 7th. The plants "official union," affiliated with the CTM or Mexican Workers Confederation, at the facility showed up with 40 people, including some with wooden clubs, to intimidate the workers and their supporters during the legal equipment seizure. After the "sick-out" by Labor Board attorneys, the fired workers sat in the Boards offices for hours until the Board president Raul Zenil y Orona, agreed to send Labor Board personnel the next day.
On December 8th, the official unions goon squad was gone, but the Labor Boards actuary raised new issues to prevent the confiscation from occurring. First, the actuary said that he could not confiscate the machinery while a strike was occurring. Over night the official union, or company personnel, had posted a black and red strike banner at the door on Dec. 8th when, in fact, the strike on site had ended more than a year before. Second, the actuary also said although the fired workers had the right to "material confiscation," they could not remove the equipment from the factory for sale.
The workers are now in yet another round of legal and political battles with the Mexican government, its official union and the company. Since 2002 the workers on site have had a legally recognized independent Coalition, and they have won a lawsuit and two appeals against the company for the illegal firings and for indemnification of the workers. The confiscation was ordered, as per Mexican law, because the company refused to pay the legal severance settlement.
The Industria Fronteriza case is a good illustration of how Mexican labor laws, which are adequate on paper, are almost impossible for workers to use because they are rarely enforced. Even with court orders based on years of successful lawsuits, the fired workers have been able to receive their due under Mexican law.
Full information on the case and how Network members can support the Industria Fronteriza workers, is available at the website of CITTAC (www.cittac.org), the Tijuana Workers Information Center, and from Enrique Davalos of the San Diego Maquiladora Workers Solidarity Network (email@example.com).
DELPHI, Reynosa, Mexico: Workers at two plants operated by Delphi, an auto parts company spun off by General Motors, learned in December 2004 that there plants were being closed and moved to China. They were also told that they would not receive the 120 days worth of severance pay required by Mexican law. After the "official union" in the plant, an affiliate of the CTM, failed to respond, the workers at the two facilities formed a "Coalition for Justice and Defense of Workers Rights," as allowed by Mexican law., on December 10th.
Four days later, Delphi workers confronted Tamaulipas Governor Tomas Yarrington Rubalcaba, and won verbal recognition of the Coalitions legal rights and the workers right to the full 120 days of severance pay from the giant transnational corporation.
Information on this ongoing battle, emblematic of the fate of workers in the global economy as factories of being opened and closed to take advantage of the race to the bottom in production costs and working conditions, can be found on the website of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (www.coalitionforjustice.net).
ALCOA, Piedras Negras, Mexico: Hundreds of workers at Alcos Macoelmex factory in Piedras Negras factory have been trying since 2002 to form their own member-controlled union to replace the government- and company-dominated "official union" at the facility. After years of illegal actions by the company and stalling by the government, the Comite Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO) organization supporting the workers filed a formal complaint for violation of freedom of association rights against Mexico with the International Labor Organization (ILO). In November 2004, the ILO accepted the complaint for investigation, so Mexicos government will now have to answer the complaint before the ILO in Geneva, Switzerland.
Information on the background to this case and the ongoing ILO complaint process is available on the CFOs website (www.cfomaquiladoras.org).
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Garment workers in Mexico and El Salvador have taken the plunge in forming their own worker-controlled maquiladoras to produce clothing for the global marketplace. In September 2004, the "Dignidad y Justicia" (Dignity and Justice) received its legal license to export, after formally opening for business in April, and in November sent 1,083 cotton bags on order to the United States. The factory was started by five garment workers supported by the North County Fair Trade group in Minnesota and the Comite Fronterizo de Obreras (FCO). More info is available at www.cfomaquiladoras.org . In El Salvador, the "Confeccion de Prendas con Justicia" or "Just Garments" factory was formed after a long fight by the Textile Workers Union (STIT) to organize the Taiwanese-owned Tainan factory. When the union won representation rights, its Taiwanese owners closed the factory. The workers, backed by STIT and U.S. labor rights organizations, led an international campaign to re-open the plant with a two-person board of directors one from Tainan and one from the workers. More info is available from firstname.lastname@example.org .
Canadas Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) has created a new page on its website called "Will the NAFTA Side Agreement Hold the Mexican Government Accountable?" The web page includes the latest information related to the 2003 complaint filed with the U.S. and Canadian governments by the Worker Assistance Center (CAT) in Puebla, Mexico, supported by the MSN and the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). The web page is available at: www.maquilasolidarity.org/campaigns/NAO/index.htm.
Network Coordinator Garrett Brown spoke about the Networks work at the University of Washington in Seattle in September 2004, and at the Latin American Studies Association conference in Las Vegas in October 2004. Brown also authored articles in the April 2004 issue of Occupational Hazards magazine ("Vulnerable Workers in the Global Economy") and the August 2004 issue of The Synergist ("Portrait of a Failure: NAFTA and Workplace Health & Safety").
Several new cyber resources have come on line since the last newsletter. These include an English-language newsletter and website by the Comite Fronterizo de Obreras at www.cfomaquiladoras.org; "CSR Asia Weekly" (www.csr-asia.com) is Hong Kong-based newsletter reporting the weeks activities on "corporate social responsibility" in the Asia-Pacific region, plus in-depth articles on labor, environmental and CSR issues; and in September 2004 the www.bilaterals.org website on the impact of bilateral trade and investment treaties began publishing news and analysis.
Several organizations are now looking to fill key positions. These include: Sweatshop Watch in Oakland, CA, looking for a new Executive Director (www.sweatshopwatch.org); the Fair Labor Association is looking for a Director of Monitoring and a "NGO Outreach Coordinator" (www.fairlabor.org); and the UNITEHERE union is looking for a senior health and safety staff member (Eric Frumin at 212-352-4720).
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QUOTES OF THE MONTH
"In the trial of one worker, Chen Nanliu, [lawyer] Gao Zhisheng conceded that what had happened at Stellas factories was inappropriate. But he blamed the explosion on clear and pressing social causes, namely the fact that our society today permits and encourages the most naked forms of social injustice. In a provocative summation to the court, Gao compared the lot of Dongguan shoe workers to that of pre-communist Chinese laborers, who he said were victims of capitalist exploitation under the U.S.-backed Nationalist government until Mao Zedongs communists triumphed in 1949. What distinguishes the present situation, however, is that in those days the Communist Party stood alongside the workers in their fight against capitalist exploitation, he added, whereas today the Communist Party is fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the cold-blooded capitalists in their struggle against the workers." Edward Cody, "In China, Workers Turn Tough, Spate of walkouts may signal new era," Washington Post, November 27, 2004.
"It was almost impossible to get Walmart suppliers to go on camera in public and say anything critical about Walmart although privately they were highly critical. In public, they will say that Walmart is tough, because Walmart calls itself tough. Privately, they will call Walmart inflexible, ruthless, vindictive and worse. Some said privately that Walmart told them point blank that they must move production over seas, usually to China. Some say that Walmart buyers even check up on them to see if they are meeting what amounts to a quota to overseas production that Walmart has given them, something close to 30 percent, especially if they want to sell to Walmarts low opening price point marketing program." Hedrick Smith, "Frontline: Is Mal-Mart Good For America?" Washington Post, November 17, 2004.
"Mattel has no way to know the truth about really goes on here, said a 24-year-old worker at the Shenzhen [China] factory. Every time there is an inspection, the bosses tell us what lies to say.
At the Shenzhen factory, where about 1,000 people are employed, it seems that everybody knows the drill. Before Mattel comes through twice a year for inspection, workers said, managers promise to pay them time-and-a-half if they repeat the company line: that they work just eight hours a day, six days a week, as allowed by Chinese law. In truth, they slog for far longer than that. Inside a tiny metal-walled shed a short walk from the factory, the 24-year-old worker reclined on his bed with his fiancée by his side and recalled how he was recently order to work 24 hours straight through without rest." Abigail Goldman, "Sweat, Fear and Resignation Amid All the Toys: Despite Mattels efforts to police factories, thousands of workers are suffering," Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2004.
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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. Because the number of reports in the months since the last newsletter has grown so large, the listing is being posted directly on the Network website so as to keep the newsletter as brief as possible.
The April 2004 January 2005 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 list of selected reports and articles about the end of the international Multi-Fiber Arrangement (MFA), which will have a major impact on maquiladora operations in Mexico as well as other parts of the global economy. Below the MFA resources list, there is a short list of other key reports and information since the last newsletter.
- Sweatshop Watch, Globalization & the Apparel Industry web page with numerous reports and analysis; www.sweatshopwatch.org
- Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) web page with fact sheets, reports and analyses; www.iccr.org
- IRC Americas Program, Todd Tucker, "Why CAFTA Cant Save Central America from the Textile Quota Expiration;" January 2005; www.americaspolicy.org
- International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), "Disaster Looms with the end of the Quota System," November 2004; www.icftu.org
- Sweatshop Watch, "Crisis of Opportunity? The Future of Los Angeles Garment Workers, the Apparel Industry and the Local Economy," November 2004; www.sweatshopwatch.org
- Ethical Trading Initiative, "MFA Phase-Out: Who gains? Who loses?; October 2004; www.ethicaltrade.org
- Asia Monitor Resource Center, Asian Labour Update magazine, special issue on the MFA, Issue No. 52, July-September 2004; www.amrc.org
- SUDWING Institute, Sabine Ferenschild and Ingeborg Wick, "Global Game for Cuffs and Collars: The Phase-Out of the WTO Agreement on Textiles and Clothing Aggravates Social Divisions," July 2004; www.suedwind-institut.de
- Richard Applebaum, "Assessing the Impact of the Phasing Out of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing on Apparel Exports on the Least Developed and Developing Countries," May 2004; posted at www.sweatshopwatcch.org
- SOMO, "Bulletin on Issues in Garments and Textiles," No. 5, April 2004; www.somo.nl
- Oxfam International, "Stitched Up, How rich country protectionism in textiles and clothing trade prevents poverty alleviation," April 2004; www.oxfam.org
- Oxfam Hong Kong, "Turning the Garment Industry Inside Out; Purchasing Practices and Workers Lives," April 2004; www.oxfam.org.hk
- World Trade Organization, Hildegunn Kyvik Nordas, "The Global Textile and Clothing Industry Post the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing," 2004; www.wto.org
Selected Reports and Articles:
- Environmental Health Coalition, "Globalization at the Crossroads: Ten Years of NAFTA in the San Diego/Tijuana Border Region," November 2004; available at: www.environmentalhealth.org
- David Bacon, "The Toxic Border," IRC Americas Program, December 2004; available at: www.americaspolicy.org/reports/2004/0412toxic.html
- Kathryn Kopinak, editor, "The Social Costs of Industrial Growth in Northern Mexico," Center for US-Mexican Studies, University of California at San Diego; October 2004; available from email@example.com
- Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, "Globalization and Cross-Border Labor Solidarity in the Americas: The Anti-Sweatshop Movement and the Struggle for Social Justice," 2005; available at: www.antisweatshopmovement.org
- Jill Esbenshade, "Monitoring Sweatshops: Workers, Consumers and the Global Apparel Industry," July 2004, available at: www.temple.edu/tempress
- Maquila Solidarity Network, Codes Memo Numbers #17 and #18, Labor Standards Reporting (#17) and Special Issue on Code Compliance Processes (#18), July 2004 and December 2004/January 2005; available at: www.maquilasolidarity.org
- Ellen R. Shaffer, Howard Waitzkin, Joseph Bremmer and Rebeca Jasso-Aguilar, "Global Trade and Public Health," American Journal of Public Health, January 2005, Vol. 95, No. 1.
- "Project Kaleidoscope, A Collaborative Project to Encourage Sustained Code Compliance," report from 10 project partners including McDonalds Corporation and the Walt Disney Company; January 2005; available at: www.asyousow.org
- International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), "Behind the brand names: Working conditions and labour rights in export processing zones," December 2004; available at: www.icftu.org
- Verite, "Excessive Overtime in Chinese Supplier factories; Causes, Impacts, and Recommendations for Action," September 2004; available at: www.verite.org
- International Forum on Globalization (IFG), "Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World is Possible," second edition, October 2004; available at: www.ifg.org
- Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, "The Ten Worst Corporations of 2004," December 2004, available from: firstname.lastname@example.org
END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. IX, NO. 1 FEBRUARY 8, 2005
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