Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter

March 15, 1998

Volume II, Number 1

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

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

Networking Notes

New Resources




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 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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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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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 can tell.

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 border.

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 into it.

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 ("") 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 Tijuana:

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 hazards;
- 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 machinery;
- lack of required medical personnel, materials and programs on site;
- 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 with impunity.

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 to happen.

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 below; and
- 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 bankers.

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 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 "".
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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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 ("" or 510-524-4050) or Garrett Brown ("" or 510-558-1014).

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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 "". 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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The work of our Network has been featured in a variety of publications in the last three months, and especially in health and safety related periodicals.

Today!, the journal of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), ran an article in its November 1997 issue.

The British Workers Health International Newsletter (WHIN) ran a back-page feature article in its December 1997 special double issue.

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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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, CA 94701-0124.)

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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 "".

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 520-626-8197.

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 "" for information regarding Network activities and meetings at the conference.

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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: ""; website: "".

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END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. II, NO. 1 - March 15, 1998