Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter

September 1998

Volume II, Number 3

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 Coordinator

Special Feature: US NAO Report's H&S Findings on Han Young

Hesperian Book Project Moves Forward

Special Projects: Nike H&S and Honduran Garment Sweat-shops

Excellent "Borderlines" Articles on Maquila H&S Issues

APHA Conference Activities

Network Reading and Resource List on APHA web page delayed

"The More Things Change..." - 150 Years Later

Networking Notes

New Resources




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 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 (AIHA), American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), National Safety Council (NSC) 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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I hope your summer was a good one and that you are ready to jump into the fall by volunteering for one or more of the Network's many projects. Even if you do not speak Spanish or have only a few hours a month to contribute, we need your participation and look forward to working with everyone who has any amount of time, energy and ideas to contribute. Please do not hesitate to contact me at "" or 510-558-1014 if you want more information on any of the following projects described in detail below:

- The Hesperian book project is off and running, beginning with the crucial needs assessment phase, but many more volunteers are needed.

- Ongoing discussions with Nike Inc. about health and safety in their contractor factories in Asia may result in one or more specific projects.

- There is a immediate need for assistance for garment/textile workers in maquiladora plants in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

- Fundraising work is needed to secure ongoing funding for the electronic and printed newsletters.

- Trainings in Spanish with maquiladora workers on the US-border are in the planning stages and volunteers are always welcome.

If you have some suggestions or ideas for Network projects, please don't keep them to yourself!

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(Below is the text of the "Findings" and "Recommendations" sections of the Final Report of the Labor Department's National Administrative Office (US NAO) on working conditions and Mexican government inspections at the Han Young de Mexico truck chassis assembly plant in Tijuana. The NAO report was issued on August 11, 1998, in response to the health and safety complaint filed under the provisions of the NAFTA labor side agreement by our Maquila Network and others in February 1998. Complete copies of the 43-page report are available from the US NAO, Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Room C-4327, Washington, DC 20210, 202-501-6653.)


The information from expert witnesses, workers and inspection reports is consistent and credible in describing a workplace polluted with toxic airborne contaminants, strewn with electric cables running through puddles of water, operating with poorly maintained and unsafe machinery, and with numerous other violations and omissions of minimum safety and health standards. This workplace was severely lacking in adequate sanitation facilities for workers to relieve themselves and bathe in minimally acceptable acceptable hygienic conditions or even get a drink of water.

These problems and shortcoming had been identified since at least June 1997, and serious issues as to their abatement remain. Corrective action to remedy some of the major problems was undertaken only at the initiative of Hyundai Precision America, and there are no assurances that these will be maintained with any consistency, if at all.

The information available indicates that Han Young was subjected to eleven safety and health inspections over the years since it began operations in 1993. At least four inspections took place since June 16, 1997. This date follows shortly after the enactment of the new health and safety regulations in April 1997. Four inspections in the space of one year is substantial.

Notwithstanding repeat inspections, however, serious unabated violations were allowed to continue over this entire period. These hazards undoubtedly existed before June 16 and pose imminent short term as well as long term dangers to health and safety of workers in the plant. Though fines in the amount of $9,400 were assessed against the company, there is no information as to whether the fines were actually collected or if the cases were otherwise disposed of. The NAO has been unable to ascertain if financial penalties were assessed and collected for the violations identified in the subsequent inspections.

The health and safety conditions reviewed should be viewed in the context of the workers' efforts to organize an independent union at Han Young as reported by the NAO on March 28, 1998. Though a union at Han Young had been in existence since the plant began operations in 1993, there is nothing to indicate that it undertook any efforts to address the conditions that have been described. This failure to act on safety and health problems was one of several reasons that prompted workers at the plant to seek representation by a union that would more effectively represent their interests.

However, of immediate concern to the NAO is the effectiveness of the inspection and sanction process in Mexico to enforce compliance in regard to workplace health and safety. Inspections, in and of themselves, are not sufficient to deter an employer determined to violate or ignore the law. However, regular inspections combined with the certainty of the imposition of significant, incremental, and ongoing financial penalties, have a demonstrated record of promoting compliance.

The NAO makes the following findings:

1. By enacting a new Federal Regulation on Safety, Health and the Workplace in April 1997, Mexico has undertaken a serious effort to improve the enforcement of safety and health in the workplace.

2. The company in question was subjected to thorough and repeated inspections by Federal and state authorities. Nevertheless, a number of questions have been raised with regard to the efficiency of the inspections. Further, despite these efforts, serious hazards continue unabated at the plant.

3. The fines totaling approximately $9,400 that were assessed against Han Young were substantial, provided they were enforced. The doubling of these fines, as provided for by the law, for unabated violations would arguably have had a significant deterrent effect, even more so if they were again doubled and enforced as appropriate. The NAO, however, has been unable to ascertain if these sanctions were applied in the case of Han Young, in accordance with Mexican law, and what, if any, further action is contemplated by the Mexican authorities to seek compliance in the case.

4. A major instrument to ensure compliance with workplace health and safety regulations is the deterrent effect afforded by the conduct of comprehensive periodic inspections combined with the certainty of the assessment of significant financial penalties against violators. This deterrent effect is lost if penalties are not enforced. Additional information on the process for conducting inspections and assessing, increasing, and collecting financial penalties would enable a more thorough valuation of the matter.

Given these considerations, including consultations at the ministerial level on these safety and health issues would further the objectives of the NAALC [North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation - the labor side agreement]. Consultations should discuss (1) the final disposition and/or current status of the health and safety cases involving Han Young de Mexico, S.A. de C.V.; (2) the status of the efforts by the government of Mexico to enforce compliance with that country's health and safety laws and regulations through implementation of the Federal Regulation on Safety, Health and the Workplace; and (3) discussion of the process by which workplace inspections are conducted and the process by which financial penalties are imposed, escalated, and collected.


Accordingly, the NAO recommends that pursuant to Article 22 of the NAALC, ministerial consultations [between the US and Mexican Secretaries of Labor] on NAO Submission No. 9702 include the safety and health issues raised.

(As of September XX, ....status update from the NAO on consultations)

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A world-wide needs assessment process to define the content and format of the proposed health and safety manual for maquiladora/export zone workers is now underway led by a committee of Network volunteers. Additional volunteers are being sought to conduct the needs assessment, analyze the results, and develop a draft table of contents for the book being developed with the Hesperian Foundation.

A "Needs Assessment Committee," coordinated by David Harrington in Berkeley, CA, has developed a two-page questionnaire which has been sent to 30 key grassroots contacts and health educators around the globe to solicit their opinions of what information and focus the planned health and safety manual should have.

A second round of interviews are planned with contacts in another 30 to 40 grassroots organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. Volunteers are needed to be the liaison persons to these organizations, that is to be the person responsible for ensuring that their set of 4 to 6 contacts in Asia, Africa or the Americas receive, understand, and respond to the needs assessment materials.

The first round of needs assessment contacts are scheduled to be completed by the time of the November 1998 conference of the American Public Health Association in Washington, DC. The second round of needs assessment contacts will be launched out of the APHA meeting.

Once the needs assessment process has been completed, the responses will be analyzed and used as the basis of a draft table of contents. Once the table of contents is established, volunteers will be needed to write the first drafts of the chapters.

A Working Group of 25 Network members has already been established, but many more volunteers will be needed to complete the needs assessment, analysis and draft chapters phases of the process. Everyone interested in volunteering should contact Network Coordinator Garrett Brown or Hesperian Publications Director Todd Jailer ("" or 510-845-1447).

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Discussions are continuing with key executives of Nike Inc. about improving working conditions in the sportswear-maker's shoe factories in Asia. In August Network member Dr. Howard Frumkin at Emory University sent a letter to Maria Eitel, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, proposing the development of an independent "Verification Board" of occupational health professionals to certify that the "new labor practices" announced by Nike in May 1998 were being implemented.

In May, Nike announced it would monitor its sub-contractors in Indonesia, Vietnam and China to ensure that local health and safety workplace regulations, or the US standards if they were more stringent, were being met in factories producing Nike products. The May announcement also promised an end to child labor in Nike's contractor facilities.

In September, Global Exchange co-director Medea Benjamin contacted our Network seeking assistance for garment workers in maquiladoras in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. A recent trip to Honduras' maquiladora center indicated a large number of young, women garment workers are suffering from both acute and chronic respiratory illnesses.

Some workers with as little as two years exposure have developed bronchitis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and other respiratory illness provoking frequent hospital emergency room visits and on-going adverse health effects. In Honduras, garment work-related illnesses are not officially recognized occupational illnesses and there are no provisions for medical attention or workers' compensation for the affected workers. Although there are genuine trade unions in some of the garment factories, the unions have been unable to effectively address the workers' health concerns.

In initial discussions with Global Exchange, several areas of work have emerged where Network volunteers could play a key role:

(1) Forwarding written materials, preferably in Spanish, regarding the health hazards (cotton dust, formaldehyde, etc.) and possible control measures in the garment industry;

(2) Organizing a fact-finding delegation of occupational physicians, nurses, industrial hygienists to document the health problems experienced by the garment workers in San Pedro Sula; and

(3) Developing corporate campaigns aimed at the US companies contracting and selling the garments produced in San Pedro Sula (Wal-Mart, K-Mart, brand name clothing companies) to establish a fund for medical treatment, financial compensation and hazard control in the garment factories.

Any Network member interested in working on these issues should contact Network Coordinator Garrett Brown or Global Exchange's Medea Benjamin ("" or 415-255-7296).

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The August and September 1998 issues of the "Borderlines" newsletter published by the Interhemispheric Resource Center in New Mexico featured "must-see" articles on the themes of health and safety and independent union organizing in the maquiladoras.

The August issue's lead story was an excellent, comprehensive article on "Health and Safety in the Maquiladoras" by editor George Kourous. The article combines information from the peer-reviewed journal articles published to date with first-hand testimony from workers in the plants. For a concise, informative report on the hazards and working conditions in the maquila industry, this article is a "must."

The September issues features an analytical article on "Reform, Resistance and Rebellion Among Mexican Workers" by Dan LaBotz, editor of the excellent on-line "Mexican Labor News and Analysis" newsletter. Also in the issue is an article by photo-journalist David Bacon on the ongoing strike at the Han Young plant in Tijuana.

The articles can be found at the IRC web site at: "". Printed subscriptions are available for $20 a year from: Borderlines, Box 4506, Albuquerque, NM 87196-4506.

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A meeting of Network members will be held on Tuesday, November 17th at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in Washington, DC. The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. at the Renaissance hotel (999 Ninth Street NW), headquarters of the Occupational Health & Safety Section. Items on the agenda include the Hesperian-Network health and safety manual project, the Nike and Honduran garment plant projects, and other issues. All interested APHA participants are encouraged to attend

Network members may be interested in the following panels :

- "Maquiladora Health & Safety Issues," #3059, Wednesday, November 18th, 8:30 - 10 a.m., Renaissance hotel;

- "Globalization, Inequality and Health", #3037, Wednesday, November 18th, 8:30 - 10 a.m., Renaissance hotel.

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The update to April 1998 of the Network's reading and Resource List, announced as completed in the last Network newsletter, has been delayed due to technical problems. A new update, to September 1998, will be posted by the end of the month, God and computer willing. The current list was posted in September 1996 and much has happened since then.

So look for the R&R list, updated to September 1998, at the web site of the American Public Health Association: "". As before, the posted list includes different sections for technical articles, books, major reports and articles, web sites and electronic resources, and a selective list of border organizations.

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The year 1998 is the 150th anniversary of "The Communist Manifesto" written by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the midst of revolutions throughout Europe. The document, once derided as obsolete and irrelevant, has been the focus of major articles in "The New York Times," "Business Week" and "The Economist," among many others.

The following selections are offered in the "the more things change, the more they stay the same" category:

"The need of a constantly expanding market chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.

"The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are being daily destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer process indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe...

"The cheap prices of its commodities are heavy artillery with which [the bourgeoisie] batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what is called civilization in to their midst, i.e. to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image...

"The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society...Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.

"All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind."

-- "The Communist Manifesto," by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, 1848.

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On August 3rd, the US NAO issued its report on the NAFTA complaint related to the Echlin Inc. plant in Mexico, to which our Network was a signatory and had contributed to the writing of the complaint's health and safety section. The Echlin complaint was filed by nine labor unions from all of the three NAFTA countries as well as a score of other human rights organizations.

The NAO found that the Mexican government had not fulfilled its legal obligations to recognize and respect the rights of the independent FAT union ("Frente Autentico del Trabajo") to represent workers of the Echlin subsidiary outside Mexico City. The NAO report also concluded that the Mexico government had failed to enforce its own health and safety regulations at the auto parts plant which produces asbestos-containing brakes. Echlin recently sold the plant to the Dana Corporation.

A complete copy of the NAO's report is available from the address above.

Two Network members from UC Berkeley, Mike Wilson and Craig Milroy, will be staffing a booth at the annual meeting of the Society for Occupational and Environmental Health (SOEH) in Bethesda, MD. The booth will be up from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Monday, October 19th. Anyone else interested in helping out at the booth should contact Coordinator Garrett Brown.

The Division of Occupational and Environmental Health of the University of California, San Francisco, has announced it next five-part course on occupational and environmental medicine from October 1998 through February 2000. Scholarships are available for participants from the developing world, and several Mexican physicians have already participated in the course directed by Joseph LaDou, MD.

For further information, call 415-476-5808 or write Office of CME, UCSF, Box 742, San Francisco, CA 94143-0742.

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- "The Mexico Jobs Rush" is a 30-minute special shown on NBC Channel 33 in Fort Wayne, IN, that looks at the transfer of jobs from Indiana to Mexico and the conditions of maquila workers. Copies are available for $15 from Tom Lewandowski, Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council, 1520 Profit Drive, Fort Wayne, IN 46808, 219-482-5588.

- "Cross Border Blues: A Call for Justice for Maquiladora Workers in Tehuacan" is a 12-page report from the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice about the huge and growing complex of garment factories in Southern Puebla. Copies are available for $3 from the National Interfaith Committee, 1607 West Howard Street, Suite 218, Chicago, IL 60626, 773-381-2832.

- "Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future" is a 144-page book by Charles Bowden with photographs from Mexican street photographers about NAFTA, corruption, gangs and immigration, with an introduction by Noam Chomsky. Published by Aperture Press for $35 at local bookstores.

- "Garment Sweatshop Production" is a 33-page report by the Peace Through Interamerican Community Action (PICA) which provides a concise introduction to garment sweatshops around the world. Copies are available from PICA, 128 Main Street, Bangor, ME 04401, 207-947-4203.

- "By the Sweat & Toil of Children; Volume IV: Consumer Labels and Child Labor" is the fourth in a series of Congressionally-mandated reports on international child labor in the carpet, footwear, athletic equipment and tea industries. Copies are available from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, US Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Room S-5303, Washington, DC 20210, 202-208-4843.

- "Shifting Gender Values along the US-Mexico Border" is a 13-page report by Leslie Gates based on interviews with 26 maquila workers on the effects of women working outside the home of familial relations and women's autonomy. Copies available from Leslie Gates at "".

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END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. II, NO. 3 - September 1998