Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter

June 11, 1997

Volume I, Number 2

Webmaster: Peter Dillard ("")

Editor & Coordinator: Garrett Brown ("")

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

510-558-1014 (voice)



Who We Are

Letter from the Editor

Letter from the Coordinator

APHA Grants to the Network

Maquila Managers Training Project Moves Forward

CAFOR Survey Follow-up in Tijuana

Trainers' Exchange Conference


Updates on Ongoing Projects

Networking Notes

New Resources




The "Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network" is a volunteer network of 300 occupational health and safety professionals who have placed their names on a resource list to provide information, technical assistance and on-site instruction regarding workplace hazards in the over 3,500 "maquiladora" (foreign-owned assembly) plants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Network members, including industrial hygienists, occupational physicians and nurses, and health educators among others, are donating their time and expertise to create safer and healthier working conditions for the over 850,000 maquiladora workers employed by primarily U.S.-owned transnational corporations along Mexico's northern border from Matamoros to Tijuana. The Support Network is not designed to generate, nor is it intended to create, business opportunities for private consultants or other for-profit enterprises. On the contrary, Network participants will be donating their time and knowledge pro bono to border area workers and professional associations. The Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network was launched in October 1993 at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA). It includes occupational health specialists from Canada, Mexico and the United States who are active in the APHA, American Industrial Hygiene Association, American Society of Safety Engineers and the 25 local grassroots Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) groups in the U.S. and Canada. The Support Network is continuously seeking more health and safety professionals and activists to join the network, as well as looking for more border community organizations who can make use of the information and technical assistance offered. Please join us!

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Since the first issue of the Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter (we really must have a shorter name!), the mailing list has doubled! Many, many of new subscribers are people who have already been very active in their worker health & safety movements. It is heartening to see the level of activism that exists despite the lack of commercial media coverage. As you will see from our Coordinator's letter, things are moving along well for an all-volunteer effort!

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As you can see, the Network's electronic newsletter is not only coming out a second time, but will be expanding over the next year into a printed format as well! A second project will bring the Network's database and directory of volunteers up to speed. These developments have been made possible by two "Challenge Fund" grants from the American Public Health Association. Many thanks to the APHA and, especially, to the leadership of its Occupational Health & Safety Section whose strong support was key to winning the grants!

For anyone who actually cares about workers' health and safety on the U.S.-Mexico border (and in the countries on either side), two recent developments are cause for great concern. The reputation for professionalism and ethical behavior of occupational health professions, especially that of industrial hygiene, is also at stake.

On January 21, 1997, the Mexican government promulgated a new "Federal Regulation on Workplace Safety and Health" to replace its 1978 predecessor. While the new law has some positive aspects, the most notable change is the privatization of government enforcement and regulation of occupational health and safety in Mexico.

The government has decided to permit privately-owned "verification units" to conduct workplace inspections and, upon "verification of compliance" with regulations, to exempt the inspected companies from further inspections and fines by the government's Secretaria del Trabajo y Prevision Social (STPS - Department of Labor and Social Welfare). The Mexican government has apparently given up on improving the professionalism and technical capacity of STPS inspectors, who have a widespread reputation for ineffectiveness and corruption. Numerous private companies, including US-owned insurance companies and consulting firms, have submitted applications to be certified by the STPS as official "verification units."

North of the border, both Republican "OSHA reformers" and Clintonian "government re-inventors" have proposed allowing "independent, third-party certification" by private consultants which would also lead, with a positive "certification," to exemption from OSHA inspections and other benefits for the inspected employers. This privatization plan has not yet been enacted (unlike Mexico), but is under serious consideration in Washington and has garnered the support of several professional associations whose membership is heavily drawn from private consulting firms.

Consultants hired and paid by corporations to conduct "certification inspections" are anything but "independent third parties;" in fact, these firms are entirely dependent on corporate clients for their current and future livelihoods. Any consulting firm which gains a reputation for being a "stickler" for accurately assessing corporate compliance (which might lead to loss of certification and denial of exemptions to its clients) risks seeing its client base shrink into oblivion. In order to maintain their clients, "independent" consultants will be under tremendous pressure to minimize, overlook or simply ignore workplace hazards.

In addition to the real danger of "certifying" unsafe conditions and work practices as "in compliance," the obvious conflict-of-interest inherent in the proposed third-party certifications threatens to taint and sully the reputations and ethical standing of the inspecting professionals. "Third party IH consultant" may well end up with "company doctor" as titles of professionals who place the welfare of their corporate clients above that of the workers and patients their professions were designed to protect.

The Mexican law is already approved and in the implementation process. The law merits close examination to see whether it does more for workers' health and safety in Mexico than simply line the pockets of politically-connected companies who will win government approval as "verification units." The changes in the U.S. are under discussion and everyone concerned with occupational health in North America should be part of the discussions occurring in Washington and inside many professional organizations.

In any case, these developments reaffirm the importance of efforts like those of our Network to provide information and assistance to those to whom workers' health and safety is of primary importance: the workers themselves. Although the Network's efforts are very modest in scale at present, the importance of volunteers' donation of expertise, technical assistance, training instruction and other forms of support, should not be underestimated. All the more so in the context of for-profit privatization of government regulatory enforcement throughout North America.

With this in mind, please remember that there are many roles for Network volunteers who don't happen to live on the U.S.-Mexico border, or who don't speak Spanish. As the Network grows, we don't want to let anyone fall through the cracks. So if you have an idea or suggestion for the Network, or for how your skills might best be utilized, please do not hesitate to contact me at "" or 510-558-1014. There's plenty of work to do and the door is wide open for new ideas, energy and projects.

Thanks for your interest and I look forward to hearing from you!

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With the backing of APHA's Occupational Health & Safety Section, the Support Network has received two $2,000 Challenge Fund grants, running from June 1997 to May 1998, from the American Public Health Association. The grants will be used to update the directory of Network volunteers and to publish and mail a printed version of this newsletter.

The volunteer directory grant will create an electronic database of volunteers and their areas of expertise, which will allow for rapid referrals of appropriate occupational health professionals in response to requests for assistance from the border. The database will be published in directory form to update the pilot edition issued in March 1996. The directory will be sent to 250 organizations and individuals on the U.S.-Mexico border working with maquiladora workers. Additional copies will be available for $8 to Network volunteers and the general public. Publication of the updated directory is scheduled for fall 1997.

Renewal forms for the updated directory will be sent out in the first week of June to all current volunteers. If you have not received a renewal form by June 15th, or want to add your name to the Directory, please send your postal address to "" or to P.O. Box 124, Berkeley, CA 94701-0124.

The newsletter grant will publish and mail four quarterly newsletters to 300 subscribers in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The English-language publication will contain the same information as the electronic version (which will continue), and will be sent to Network volunteers without e-mail addresses and to organizations and individuals with whom the Network wants to maintain regular contact. In addition to continuing the newsletter beyond June 1998, we are hoping to publish a Spanish-language edition as well.

Network volunteers receiving the current electronic version will also be able to get the printed version for $10 per year. The first printed version of the newsletter is scheduled for the third quarter (August) of 1997. Network members who want to subscribe to the printed version of the newsletter should send their postal address and their $10 contribution to P.O. Box 124, Berkeley, CA 94701-0124. Anyone who is not currently on the electronic version mailing list, and wishes to be on, should send her or his e-mail address to Peter Dillard at ""

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Network members who are also members of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) met May 21st in Dallas at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exposition (AIHCE) to plan the next steps in a project to offer trainings to supervisors with health and safety responsibilities in the maquiladoras.

Although most of the 3,500 maquiladora plants now operating on the US-Mexico border are owned by Fortune 500 companies, there is often little or no health and safety training for either line workers, supervisors, or members of the legally-required "joint health and safety commissions" in the plants. As one means of improving working conditions for the close to 900,000 maquila workers, Network members have been working with the Americas Subcommittee of AIHA's International Affairs Committee to sponsor on-site, Spanish-language and at-cost trainings of supervisors and joint commission members on a variety of health and safety topics.

A 775-piece mailing to maquila plant managers and parent company health and safety managers went out last October explaining the AIHA initiative. Approximately 15 companies responded expressing interest in the training and two dozen AIHA members have offered to be volunteer instructors.

At the AIHCE meeting, Network members divided up responsibilities for contacting the interested employers to set a date, time and place for the pilot training. Volunteer instructors for the classes will be selected based on the curriculum developed out of a needs assessment conducted with the actual participants. Four subject areas -- hazard communication, chemical use and waste management, noise and Mexican legal requirements -- were selected as the focus of the proposed pilot training.

The training participants are expected to be Mexican-born managers, supervisors and joint commission members who have health and safety responsibilities in their plants, but little or no formal training in the field. Anyone interested in working on this project should contact Garrett Brown at "" or call 510-558-1014.

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Over the weekend of May 17-18th, three Network members traveled to Colonia Vista Alamar in Tijuana to conduct follow-up interviews with survey interviewers and worker respondents of the working conditions and health effects survey organized by the CAFOR (Border Region Workers Support Committee) organization.

The team consisted of health educator and project coordinator Michele Gonzalez Arroyo of the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at UC Berkeley; Simone Brumis, a Certified Industrial Hygienist who works for the State of California; and Dr. Tim Takaro, an occupational physician at the University of Washington in Seattle. The team interviewed at length a dozen workers and several of the survey-takers who had interviewed 175 of their peers working in 72 maquiladora plants in the industrial parks in and around Tijuana last June and July.

The Network team is writing up their reports from the interviews and the analysis of the survey for a comprehensive report to be issued in English and Spanish in July 1997. CAFOR and the San Diego Support Committee will simultaneously release the survey results for Maquiladora Workers, which facilitated the survey and did the initial data entry.

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The Support Network, jointly with the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at UC Berkeley and the Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (LOSH) at UCLA, is considering convoking a "trainers' exchange" conference on the U.S.-Mexico border in early 1998. The purpose of the conference would be to exchange information, materials and lesson plans among the many groups and individuals who are actually conducting health and safety trainings with maquiladora workers and their communities.

The conference will be a major step toward increasing joint projects along the border, and toward eliminating the necessity for trainers to "reinvent the wheel" (when producing didactic materials and lesson plans) with each new training. The goal is to have as many people actually conducting trainings, who are often maquila workers themselves, attend the conference. A major fund-raising effort to subsidize the attendance of these participants will have to be undertaken before the conference.

Anyone interested in working on this project should contact Garrett Brown at "" or call 510-558-1014.

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Along with the good news of the APHA grants, we received word that the Network's request for a grant from the RESIST Foundation in Boston had been declined. Additional funding for a Spanish-language version of the newsletter, and to continue the printed English version after the first four issues, will be needed by the end of the year. Other projects, such as the trainers' exchange conference and printed health and safety materials in Spanish, are also dependent on finding new resources to fund them. Anyone with funding ideas, experience or energy should contact Garrett Brown at the numbers above.

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In the first week of June an updated version of the Network's Reading & Resource list will be posted on the web page of the American Public Health Association (APHA). The list first went electronic in September 1996 and the current update includes materials up to March 15, 1997. The list can be found at "". The list is divided into the following sections:

List A, references for technical articles and reports
List B, background books
List C, reports and articles from the mass media about conditions on the U.S.-Mexico border and about economic globalization
List D, names and contact numbers for a selection of border organizations
List E, information on audio-visual materials
List F, addresses for various electronic and on-line resources

Another update is planned for October 1997, but an editing of the list needs to be done as it has become very lengthy and not-so-user-friendly. Anyone interested in helping edit and/or annotate the reading and resource list should contact Garrett Brown at the numbers above.



The San Francisco-based team of trainers (Michele Gonzalez Arroyo, Garrett Brown, Leonor Dionne, Emily Merideth and Susan Teran) is scheduled to work on the border this summer or fall with the Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT) union confederation. The training team will conduct the health and safety portion of a several-week training of new border workplace organizers the union hopes to recruit and train. Other trainings in the offing for 1998 are with maquiladora workers along the Arizona-Sonora section of the border, which encompasses Agua Prieta, Nogales and San Luis Colorado.



Coordinator Sonia Alas is moving forward with efforts to establish an Advisory Committee of leading occupational safety and health professionals from the U.S., Mexico and Latin America. The Committee will help develop lists of organizations, government agencies and corporations throughout the Americas and Spain, which have safety and health materials. The Committee will also help develop a classification scheme for the collected materials and for requests, so as to respond with materials appropriate to the needs, educational and literacy levels of those requesting copies of materials.

The collection, cataloging and distribution of Spanish-language materials is being financially and materially supported by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The library is based at the Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (LOSH) at UCLA. Anyone interested in the project should contact Sonia Alas at UCLA LOSH, 1001 Gayley Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024, 310-794-0369.

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A meeting of Network members is in the planning stages for the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in November 9-13,1997, in Indianapolis, IN. Anyone interested in helping plan the meeting should contact
Garrett Brown at the numbers above.

The San Francisco AFL-CIO has called a "Western Hemisphere Workers' Conference Against NAFTA and Privatizations" for November 14-16, 1997, in San Francisco, CA. A Spanish-language call for the historic initiative has been posted on the Internet and sent to labor organizations throughout the Americas. The Network hopes to have a presence at the conference and participate in workshops on safety and health issues. For more information about the conference contact Ed Rosario at the San Francisco Labor Council, 1188 Franklin Street, Suite 203, San Francisco, CA 94109, 415-587-7638.

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The Mexican Department of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS - Secretaria de Trabajo y Prevision Social) has an Internet web page with many interesting features, including the text of regulations and explanations of recent changes in the laws. The web page is well worth a visit to download the key documents regulating health and safety in the maquiladoras. The address is "".

There are a variety of excellent newsletters covering developments in the maquila industry and the U.S.-Mexico border region. Among these periodicals, however, three stand out as "must-reads" for those wanting to keep up:

(1) "Working Together" newsletter published six times a year by the Labor Project of the Resource Center of the Americas in Minneapolis. The newsletter has articles on key developments and an excellent section of events, resources, web sites and "things brewing." The $15 annual subscription cost is a bargain. Subscribe to "Working Together," Labor Project, Resource Center of the Americas, 317 Seventeenth Avenue SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414-2077.

(2) "BorderLines" is the newsletter, published eleven times a year, of the Interhemispheric Resource Center in New Mexico. The publication is particularly strong in environmental coverage and in tracking the activities of the tri-national bodies on labor and the environment established by NAFTA. The $20 annual subscription should be sent to "BorderLines," Interhemispheric Resource Center, Box 2178, Silver City, NM 88062.

(3) Equipo Pueblo publishes "The Other Side of Mexico" six times a year in Mexico City in English and Spanish. The newsletter has articles on key developments in Mexico and analysis of the ever-changing panorama of Mexican politics, economics and social development. An annual subscription is $35 and can be initiated by sending a check to "The Other Side of Mexico," Equipo Pueblo, Apartado Postal 27-467, Mexico, DF, CP 06760, MEXICO. "Mexico Update" is their electronic, English-language information service. It can be subscribed to by sending an e-mail message to "".

Two other newsletters which have excellent coverage of the impact of globalization on many countries in the Americas and around the world are:

(4) "Campaign for Labor Rights" newsletter, available for $35 from the Campaign, 1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC 20003; and

(5) "Worker Rights News," published the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and available for $15 a year from the ILRF, 110 Maryland Avenue NE, Box 74, Washington, DC 20002.

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END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. I, NO. 2 - June 11, 1997