Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter
Volume II, Number 3
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 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
WHO WE ARE
The "Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network" is a volunteer
network of 400 occupational health and safety professionals who
have placed their names on a resource list to provide information,
technical assistance and on-site instruction regarding workplace
hazards in the 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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LETTER FROM THE COORDINATOR - Garrett Brown
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 "email@example.com" 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
- Ongoing discussions with Nike Inc. about health and safety in
their contractor factories in Asia may result in one or more specific
- 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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SPECIAL FEATURE: US NAO REPORT'S FINDINGS ON HEALTH & SAFETY CONDITIONS
AND INSPECTIONS AT THE HAN YOUNG PLANT IN TIJUANA
(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
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
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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HESPERIAN BOOK PROJECT MOVES FORWARD
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
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
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 ("firstname.lastname@example.org"
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SPECIAL PROJECTS: NIKE H&S ISSUES AND HONDURAN GARMENT SWEAT-SHOPS
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
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 ("email@example.com" or 415-255-7296).
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EXCELLENT "BORDERLINES" ARTICLES ON MAQUILA H&S ISSUES
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: "www.zianet.com/irc1/bordline/".
Printed subscriptions are available for $20 a year from: Borderlines,
Box 4506, Albuquerque, NM 87196-4506.
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APHA CONFERENCE ACTIVITIES
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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NETWORK READING & RESOURCE LIST AT APHA WEB SITE
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: "www.apha.org/science/sections/maquil.html".
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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SPECIAL FEATURE: A 150 YEARS LATER, "THE MORE THINGS CHANGE..."
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,
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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
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,
- "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
- "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,
- "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 "firstname.lastname@example.org".
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END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. II, NO. 3 - September 1998
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