Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter
March 15, 1998
Volume II, Number 1
Webmaster: Peter Dillard ("ishmaelMD@aol.com")
Editor & Coordinator: Garrett Brown ("firstname.lastname@example.org")
P.O. Box 124, Berkeley, CA 94701-0124
Who We Are
Letter from the Editor
Letter from the Coordinator
Special Feature: Network Testimony at Han Young NAO Hearing
Network members help prepare two NAFTA/NAO Complaints
Follow-up meeting held on Hesperian Foundation book project
Participation in 1998 SOEH conference
Media coverage of the Network
Updated edition of Directory of Volunteers published
WHO WE ARE
The "Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network" (MHSSN) is a
volunteer network of 400 occupational health and safety professionals
who have placed their names on a resource list to provide information,
technical assistance and on-site instruction regarding workplace
hazards in the over 3,800 "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
950,000 maquiladora workers employed by primarily U.S.-owned transnational
corporations along Mexico's northern border from Matamoros to
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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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR - Peter Dillard
We're starting our second year of publication of the electronic
version of the MHSSN newsletter. We've changed our format over
the year from direct e-mailings to the posting of the newsletter
at a website on the internet. Thanks to the generosity of some
of our members and member organizations, we have been able to
rent website space from the Institute for Global Communications
(IGC), a non-profit internet service provider whose mission is
to support "people-helping" organizations like ourselves. We owe
thanks to Mary Miller, chairwoman of the APHA's Occupational Health
& Safety Section, and from the Seattle group, "Partners for Health"
for a combined donation of $150.
One advantage of a website is the immediate access it gives us
to resources when we need help fast. Therefore, to take full advantage
of this opportunity, I have created an MHSSN homepage, or a "command
center" from which to access, in addition to our newsletter, occupational
safety and health resources which may help our members in their
support mission. In this way, members will have immediate access
to the websites of other organizations and to other technical
resources which contribute to our mission. I will add more of
these resource sites, which can be accessed by a click of the
mouse key, to our homepage as I become aware of them.
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LETTER FROM THE COORDINATOR - Garrett Brown
The principal activity of the Network over the last three months
has been assistance in preparing two complaints under the NAFTA
labor side agreement charging the Mexican government with failure
to effectively enforce Mexico's health and safety regulations
in a maquiladora plant in Tijuana and in plants near Mexico City.
The health and safety complaints, described in detail below, involve
the Network as a co-petitioner with human rights and labor union
organizations from Mexico, Canada and the United States.
This work may well be controversial with some Network members.
The report highlights sub-standard working conditions in plants
that are either U.S.-owned or that sell their products in the
U.S.; and the complaints are necessarily adversarial in tone toward
the Mexican Department of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS), Mexico's
equivalent to OSHA.
However, in my opinion, these two NAO complaints relate directly
to our concerns for maquiladora health and safety. Working conditions
in the maquiladoras cannot improve if the Mexican government does
not enforce its own regulations, and if the operators of the maquilas
(overwhelmingly U.S.-based transnationals) indicate no incentive
to devote the human and financial resources necessary to run their
plants in accordance with Mexican law and professional "good practice".
The NAO held a hearing on February 18th on the situation at the
Han Young plant in Tijuana where numerous STPS inspections had
occurred, but serious, identified violations were never corrected
and the company was never fined. The day after the hearing Mexico's
Secretary of Labor flew to Tijuana to announce a $9,000 fine against
Han Young -- the first maquiladora ever fined, as far as anyone
The STPS announcement was a good beginning, after a long start,
but the plant is still a "case study" of industrial hazards, some
of which the STPS itself characterized as having potentially "fatal
consequences." Han Young is certainly a dramatic case, but, unfortunately,
is not unique among the 3,800 maquiladora plants on the U.S.-Mexico
Below is the text of my testimony at February 18th NAO hearing
in San Diego. Let me know if you think the testimony was "on the
mark" or "off the wall." A copy of the full text and related tables
of the Han Young health and safety complaint is available from
the Network for $4 (checks to the P.O. Box listed above), or for
free from the U.S. NAO Office (Dept. of Labor, 200 Constitution
Avenue NW, Room C-4327, Washington, DC 20210).
A meeting of women maquiladora workers to discuss their priorities
and most urgent needs is being organized this spring by the Mexican
"Red de mujeres en las maquiladoras." Out of this gathering, we
hope, will come an evaluation of whether a "trainers' exchange"-type
conference on health and safety issues would be a useful and needed
activity for this fall or winter.
As readers know, our Network has been discussing ideas for such
a trainers' exchange conference for grassroots health and safety
trainers in Mexican community-based organizations on the border
for some months now. But the deciding "vote" for calling such
a conference must come from the border's working women themselves.
After the spring meeting we will have a clearer picture of what
such a meeting would look like and how Network members could plug
One conference where Network members are needed for sure is the
October 1998 Society of Occupational and Environmental Health
conference in Maryland (see details below). Any network member
planning to attend the gathering, or who lives nearby, should
please contact me if they would like to staff a Network booth
at the conference for two hours on Monday afternoon, October 19th.
As always, there are many ways Network members can plug into activities,
even if they do not happen to live near the U.S.-Mexico border
or speak Spanish. Please send me a message ("email@example.com") if you'd like to get involved and need some suggestions of
where to start!
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SPECIAL FEATURE - Testimony of Network Coordinator Garrett Brown before the U.S.
NAO hearing in San Diego, CA, on February 18th regarding the NAFTA
health and safety complaint at the Han Young de Mexico plant in
The health and safety amendment, and my testimony today, is based
on an analysis of a series of three inspections by the Mexican
government's Department of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS) at
the Han Young de Mexico plant in Tijuana in June 1997, September
1997 and January 1998.
The STPS inspection reports very clearly indicate a persistent
pattern of failure on the part of the STPS to enforce Mexico's
health and safety regulations at the plant. This pattern includes:
- failure to order corrective action to abate two dozen identified
- failure to order immediate correction of at least two identified
life threatening, "imminent danger" azards;
- failure to verify and assure completion of mandated corrective
actions months after the deadlines have passed and after the STPS
has conducted 11 inspections of the plant;
- failure to assess monetary penalties, both initially and after
continued employer non-compliance; and
- failure to exercise its authority to partially or totally close
specific operations, or the entire plant, in the face of on-going
violations, including life-threatening hazards.
As described in detail in the health and safety amendment, the
STPS conducted an inspection of Han Young on June 16, 1997, following
a two-day strike by workers in late May. The inspection report
listed 41 violations of Mexico's workplace health and safety regulations.
However, the STPS ordered corrective action for only half of these
identified violations. Among the identified violations for which
no corrective action was ordered were:
- lack of a workplace Health and Safety Committee (required by
Mexican law since 1991);
- lack of a written workplace health and safety program;
- lack of a noise control and hearing conservation program in
a high noise environment;
- lack of employee training regarding exposure to hazardous substances
on site, such as welding fumes, ozone and ultraviolet light;
- lack of written "lockout/tagout" procedures and employee training
to prevent amputations and electrocutions with electrically-energized
- lack of required medical personnel, materials and programs on
- lack of required fire safety plans, equipment and employee training.
Moreover, where the STPS did order specific hazard abatement,
the corrective actions were not issued until July 23, 1997, five
weeks after the identification of serious violations and hazards
at the plant. The STPS gave Han Young between 15 and 25 working
days (three to five calendar weeks) to abate hazards identified
to the employer in June.
The follow-up, verification inspection by STPS did not occur until
September 5, 1997, more than 80 calendar days after the original
inspection. The September inspection revealed that Han Young had
failed to abate at least six of the violations identified in June.
The STPS gave Han Young management another 10 working days, despite
the passage of almost three months from the original inspection,
to correct these unabated serious violations. The STPS then failed
to conduct any inspection between September 1997 and January 1998
to verify employer compliance with its abatement order.
In addition, the STPS failed to assess monetary penalties against
Han Young following either inspection. Federal Labor Law (LFT)
Articles 994-V and 1002 state that employers are to be fined for
violations of the law at the time of initial inspection; and LFT
Article 512-D and Article 168 of the Federal Regulation (RFSH)
clearly require doubling the initial penalties if employers fail
to comply with abatement orders. The STPS failed to issue either
the initial or the doubled non-abatement fines against Han Young.
In fact, the fines established by Mexican law are so small as
to be meaningless to transnational corporations such as Hyundai
and other maquiladora operators, but the failure by the STPS to
assess even these nominal monetary penalties encourages and emboldens
employers like Han Young to ignore health and safety regulations
In January 1998, Han Young's workers were again forced to carry
out a work stoppage over safety, and they marched en masse to
the STPS office on January 23rd to demand a re-inspection of the
plant following two near-fatal crane accidents in the plant. STPS
inspected the plant on January 27 and 28, 1998.
The January 1998 inspection report is, perhaps, the most shocking
document of all. The STPS inspector describes, in eight pages
of chilling detail, a workplace that is a catastrophe waiting
Among the findings reported (summarized in Table 6 of Appendix
A of the amendment) are:
- At least two types of life-threatening, "imminent danger" hazards
exist in the plant:
- malfunctioning and poorly maintained cranes carrying heavy metal
truck-trailer chassis over the heads of workers throughout the
plant. On January 8, 1998, a crane dropped a one-ton chassis in
mid-air without warning, barely missing six employees working
- numerous high-voltage electric welding cables, many in poor
condition, running through pools of rain water and energized welding
machines located directly under roof leaks. The STPS report points
out that such conditions can easily have "fatal consequences."
- After eleven inspections by the STPS, including the two in June
and September 1997, the plant lacks even the most basic health
and safety programs (plant Health and Safety Committee, plant
health and safety plan, plant medical services, monitoring for
airborne contaminants, engineering controls to reduce/eliminate
such contaminants, hearing conservation and noise control, fire
prevention and suppression plans, employee training on hazards
and safe operating procedures for machinery); and the plant operates
numerous pieces of machinery and equipment that regularly malfunction
and/or are in a dangerous state of disrepair.
- At least 36 of the corrective actions ordered in the June and
September 1997 inspections had not been completed, or were again
in violation of the law in January 1998. The inspection report
also listed at least nine new violations not previously identified
in the last set of inspections (see Table 6).
Despite this report, the STPS failed to order immediate action
to eliminate the imminent danger hazards and failed to exercise
its authority to close part or all of the plant until such life-threatening
hazards were eliminated. Instead the STPS gave the employer another
20 working days (one calendar month) to correct the hazards, almost
all of which were identified seven months earlier. And again no
monetary penalties were assessed against Han Young.
To this very day, Han Young has been allowed to continue operating
a workplace which is "immediately dangerous to life and health"
of the workers.
These three inspections show an agency that has failed to enforce
Mexican law and is apparently unwilling to apply clearly stated
requirements of workplace health and safety regulations at the
Han Young plant. This failure is direct threat to the lives and
well-being of the Mexican citizens who work at Han Young. This
failure is also a violation of the terms of the NAALC, not to
mention other international agreements and conventions of which
the Mexican government is a signatory.
It is worth noting that part of the STPS' failure to enforce Mexican
regulations is due to the austerity programs imposed on Mexico
by the International Monetary Fund and related institutions. The
impact of the IMF agreements and "economic globalization" in general
severely undermines the political will of the Mexican government
to enforce its regulations against transnational corporations
generating hard currency desperately needed to pay off foreign
In point of fact, the conditions at Han Young are not unique among
the 3,800 maquiladora plants now employing one million Mexican
workers on the U.S.-Mexico border and in other parts of Mexico.
The dictates of imposed austerity, however, cannot be a justification
for workplace conditions and the failure of regulatory enforcement
that threaten the lives of workers. The question must be asked:
"What will it take before the STPS effectively acts to clean up
the Han Young plant?" I fear the answer may be: "multiple worker
deaths in a catastrophic accident."
The purpose of our complaint and my testimony today is not to
"bash Mexico" or to attack individual STPS inspectors. Our purpose
to bring to light conditions and official inaction which pose
a threat to workplace safety not only at Han Young but throughout
the maquiladora industry, and throughout the United States and
Canada as the "lowest common denominator" of economic global integration
drives down workplace health and safety throughout North America.
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NETWORK ASSISTANCE IN PREPARING TWO U.S. NAO HEALTH & SAFETY COMPLAINTS
Network member Marta Segura of UCLA-LOSH and the Southern California
chapter of WorkSafe!, and coordinator Garrett Brown worked from
November to February with Eric Myers, formerly Communications
Director of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, in
writing and editing the health and safety amendment to the NAO
complaint at the Han Young plant in Tijuana.
The original NAO complaint regarding "freedom of association"
issues (workers' efforts to organize an independent union at Han
Young) was filed last fall by the Mexican union, STIMAHCS, the
Mexican National Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Washington-based
International Labor Rights Fund, and the San Diego Support Committee
for Maquiladora Workers.
The health and safety amendment was filed in early February 1998
with the additional co-petitioners of our Network, WorkSafe!,
the United Steel Workers of America (USWA), the UAW, and the Canadian
Auto Workers union.
The health and safety amendment charges that the Mexican government
has failed to effectively enforce health and safety regulations
at Han Young. Under the NAFTA labor side agreement, such health
and safety complaints are one of three types of complaints that
could result in fines and loss of trade privileges if a "persistent
pattern" of failing to enforce regulations were confirmed in Mexico.
The U.S. NAO in San Diego held a hearing on the Han Young complaints,
on February 18th. Speaking at the hearing were 30 Han Young workers,
the plant manager and company lawyer, several Mexican legal experts,
and both Segura and Brown. Local and Mexican media extensively
covered the hearing. A full report on the hearing is available
from the Campaign for Labor Rights in Washington at "firstname.lastname@example.org".
The second health and safety amendment has not yet been filed
with the U.S. NAO office in the Department of Labor in Washington,
but it raises the same issues with regard to Mexican plants operated
by the Echlin Inc., a transnational based in Connecticut. The
United Electrical (UE) workers union is the lead petitioner of
the primary "freedom of association" complaint (soon to be amended)
that was filed in January 1998 by an alliance of unions and human
rights groups in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.
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FOLLOW-UP MEETING HELD ON HESPERIAN BOOK PROJECT
A meeting was held in Berkeley, CA, on January 21st to follow-up
the proposals from the meeting at APHA last November on the proposed
occupational health and safety book project with the Hesperian
Foundation. Hesperian Foundation Director Todd Jailer met with
Network members David Harrington, Emily Merideth and Garrett Brown
to lay out plans for developing a needs assessment process with
worker groups on the U.S.-Mexico border and around the world to
better define the content and focus of the proposed book.
A letter is going out to the members of the "Working Group" formed
at APHA describing the proposals from the January 21st meeting,
and soliciting volunteers (both "old" and "new") for the anticipated
year-long process of developing and conducting a "needs assessment"
with community-based workers' organizations and support groups
around the world.
At the APHA meeting last fall, a general consensus was reached
on several issues. First, this book needs to cover a broader subject
than the original "where there is no doctor" for workers. The
subject needs to include health and safety issues to address "where
there is no industrial hygienist, no toxicologist, no epidemiologist
and no health educator" for workers. The focus subjects of the
book would be workers in the Mexican maquilas and in the "free
trade zones" in the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and other areas of
the world. The exact mix of information on curative care, prevention
activities, grassroots "epi" studies and community organizing,
among other possible topics, remains to be defined.
For more information, and to join the "Working Group," please
contact either Todd Jailer ("email@example.com" or 510-524-4050) or Garrett Brown ("firstname.lastname@example.org" or 510-558-1014).
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NETWORK PARTICIPATION IN 1998 SOEH CONFERENCE
The Network has been invited to have a booth on October 19, 1998,
at the annual meeting of the Society for Occupational and Environmental
Health (SOEH) in Bethesda, MD. We need volunteers to set up and
staff the booth from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Monday, Octobe
r 19th. Anyone planning to attend the SOEH conference, or who
lives in the area, and is available for two hours that afternoon
to staff the booth, please contact Garrett Brown at "email@example.com". The theme of the SOEH gathering this year is "International
Environmental and Occupational Health: Creating Global Linkages,"
which is a natural fit for our Network.
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MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE NETWORK
The work of our Network has been featured in a variety of publications
in the last three months, and especially in health and safety
Today!, the journal of the American Conference of Governmental
Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), ran an article in its November
The British Workers Health International Newsletter (WHIN) ran
a back-page feature article in its December 1997 special double
The Japanese Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center (JOSHRC)
ran a three-page, Japanese-language article on the Network (complete
with graphics from our printed newsletter, "Border/Line Health
& Safety") in its December 1997 newsletter.
The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) Occupational Safety & Health
Reporter has run several articles on Network activities with the
latest article on December 10, 1997, covering the release of the
CAFOR survey report. Articles on the NAO hearing and Network testimony
are also in the works.
The Cal/OSHA Reporter, a specialized publication on regulatory
enforcement in California, ran a front-page feature article on
the Network in its December 15, 1997, issue.
The Nation's Health, the monthly newspaper of the American Public
Health Association (APHA), ran a large article on the release
of the CAFOR survey report in its January 1998 issue.
The Synergist, the monthly news magazine of the American Industrial
Hygiene Association (AIHA) ran a "Speak Out" column by Garrett
Brown on occupational safety and health regulatory reform in Mexico
and the U.S. in its September 1997 issue and then ran three letters,
with Brown's response, in its January 1998 issue.
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UPDATED EDITION OF VOLUNTEER DIRECTORY PUBLISHED
A second edition of the Network's bi-lingual "Directory of Volunteers"
was published in February and is in the process of being mailed
to 120 key organizations in Mexico, Canada and the U.S. The Directory
includes approximately 200 Network members, about half the total
number of Network members. All volunteers are part of a database
coded for individual volunteers' training, experience, location
and Spanish fluency. Border organizations seeking information
and technical assistance will be able to access Network volunteers
from both the printed directory and the computer database.
The new Directory was published and distributed with a grant from
the American Public Health Association, facilitated by APHA's
Occupational Health & Safety Section. The directory is being sent
free of charge to worker, environmental and community organizations
on the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as selected key support organizations
in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.
Personal copies of the Network's "Directory of Volunteers" are
available for $10 a copy. (Send a check to P.O. Box 124, Berkeley,
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The Network has submitted a renewal "Challenge Grant" from the
American Public Health Association (APHA) for 1998-99 to continue
publishing the printed newsletter, "Border/Line Health & Safety,"
and its older sister publication, this electronic newsletter.
The $2,000 grant request would pay for the printing and distribution
of the newsletter for an additional year while permanent funding
its secured. The grant would also support an upgrading of the
electronic newsletter through acquisition of an automated list-server
and a Network website.
Volunteers wanting a subscription to the printed "Border/Line
Health & Safety" should send a $10 check to P.O. Box 124, Berkeley,
CA 94701-0124. Anyone experienced in running list-servers and
websites, and anyone interested in helping with the Network's
cyber projects, should contact editor Peter Dillard at "ishmaelMD@aol.com".
On March 5-7, 1998, an important border-wide environmental and
public health conference will be held in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
The "Annual Meeting on the Border Environment" is the first of
proposed annual meetings of community-based and non-governmental
organizations working to protect the environment and public health
in the border region. The meeting will include panels on major
environmental issues, occupational health in the maquiladoras,
skills-training sessions and roundtables to exchange information
and experiences. For more information, contact Emily Frank at
The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) will be meeting
in Atlanta, GA, May 11-14, 1998. Network Coordinator Garrett Brown
will be speaking on two panels on Tuesday, May 12th. One panel
will be on the impact of "economic globalization" on occupational
safety and health; and the other on the issue of "third-party
(non-governmental) certifications" of workplace working conditions.
Third-party verifications are already permitted under Mexican
law and have been proposed in the U.S. as well. AIHA members attending
the AIHCE in Atlanta should contact Garrett Brown at "firstname.lastname@example.org"
for information regarding Network activities and meetings at the
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- The National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade is a business-oriented
resource center in Tucson, AZ, which offers an extensive list
of publications and an on-line data base ("InterAm") on Latin
American legal and regulatory information. Among the titles of
center publications are "Transformation of the Mexican Maquiladora
Industry: The Driving Force Behind the Creation of a NAFTA Regional
Economy" and "Mexico & U.S. Labor Law and Practice: A Practical
Guide for Maquilas and Other Businesses." Further information
on the center is available at: National Law Center for Inter-American
Free Trade, 111 South Church Avenue, Suite 200, Tucson, AZ 85701-1629;
tel: 520-622-1200; fax: 520-622-0957; e-mail: "email@example.com"; website: "www.natlaw.com".
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END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. II, NO. 1 - March 15, 1998
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