Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter

December 19, 1998

Volume II, Number 4

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

Auto Unions To Fund, Organize Border Trainings

Network Meeting at APHA Sets 1999 Tasks

Border Trainings

Update on NAO Reports

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 4,000 "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 one million 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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Holidays greetings to all! I hope that 1998 was a good year for you and that 1999 will be a better one as we prepare for the new millennium.

I'm afraid that the year was not a good one for most maquiladora workers on the US-Mexico border. The ongoing, and deepening, economic crisis in Mexico meant a further drop in the real wages of maquila workers (while increasing the incentives for transnational corporations to move plants to the border), and the continuing inability of local governments to provide essential services (clean water, sewage, roads, schools, etc.) or to enforce occupational and environmental health regulations to protect the border's fragile ecology and the people who live in it.

As we head into the 21st century, life for most maquila workers better resembles that of 19th century industrial workers in Europe rather than the promised "first world Mexico." January 1999 marks the fifth anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and there will be a flood of analytical articles marking the occasion.

In my view, the only positive result of NAFTA for working people in Canada, Mexico and the United States has been the explosion of cross-border solidarity and organizing in all three countries to protect workers, communities and the environment. The last five years has seen the development and deepening of cross-border relations and activities between grassroots community, religious, labor and environmental groups that simply did not exist 10 years ago, and were just emerging when NAFTA took effect in January 1994.

What progress that has been made on the border under NAFTA is entirely due to this organizing and pressure brought to bear on the governments and corporations by community-based and non-governmental organizations working together on issues affecting maquila workers, working women, border communities and the environment. It has been bottom-up and across-borders organizing, which, naturally, has not been without its own set of problems and conflicts, that has made the difference.

It is worth noting that 1999 will mark the sixth anniversary of our Network, the ninth for the Southwest Network for Economic and Environmental Justice (SNEEJ) and the tenth for the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM).

Let's hope that 1999 will register even greater activity, coordination and solidarity between these organizations on the border. As the US government looks to expand NAFTA with a "Americas Free Trade Agreement" (AFTA) throughout the entire hemisphere, our work of the last five years will have to expand throughout the Americas as well. On to 1999 and into the 21st century!

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The United Auto Workers (US) and the Canadian Auto Workers unions have just announced a major multi-year program of occupational health and safety trainings on the US-Mexico border to be coordinated and organized by the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras.

The UAW will contribute $35,000 and the CAW's Social Justice Fund will donate $70,000 over two years for an ongoing series of "train-the-trainer" and specific hazards trainings with maquiladora workers from Tijuana to Matamoros. CJM will work directly with the health and safety departments of the two North American unions to bring a series of trainings to the various maquila centers of the border, with a special emphasis on the burgeoning auto parts industry.

The training series will also provide opportunities for occupational health professionals throughout North America to work together on the border. Collaboration in border trainings has already occurred between trainers with the UAW, CAW, the CILAS labor research center in Mexico City, and the Labor Occupational Health and Safety Program (LOSH) at UCLA and the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at UC Berkeley, as well as other professionals in the Network.

Our Network takes particular satisfaction that several years of discussions with the unions' health and safety leaders has resulted in the CJM-UAW-CAW agreement.

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A fruitful 90-minute meeting of 25 Network members and supporters at the annual gathering of the American Public Health Association in Washington in November produced the agenda of activities for the Network in 1999. The range of activities open to Network volunteers includes Spanish-language trainings on the border, English-language contacts with grassroots groups about the Hesperian book, research and information on hazards related to "water-based" solvents and adhesives, among other projects.

Todd Jailer, Director of Publishing for the Hesperian Foundation, and David Harrington, coordinator of the needs assessment committee, outlined that status of the project to produce a health and safety manual for maquila/export processing zone (EPZ) workers throughout the world.

A two-phase needs assessment process has been initiated to obtain from grassroots worker and community organizations active in the maquila/EPZs specific recommendations about the form and content of the manual. Seventeen professionals around the globe have already offered their opinions on the subject this fall. In January 1999, 25 Network volunteers will be contacting over 50 grassroots organizations for their insights. A one-page needs assessment form has been developed to standardize responses.

Once the needs assessment responses have been analyzed, a draft table of contents will be developed and sent back out for review by the grassroots organizations. Draft chapters will then be produced by volunteers knowledgeable in the topics. Hesperian has a well-developed system of field-testing materials with grassroots organizations at all stages of book production, and the grassroots organizations involved usually generate concepts and information appearing in the final product.

Network members interested in becoming "liaisons" in contact with two or three grassroots organizations, or in analyzing the responses and developing a draft table of contents, should contact either Garrett Brown <> or Todd Jailer <>.

Garrett Brown reported on developments in the ongoing discussions with Nike Inc. concerning working conditions at one of the company's five shoe manufacturing plants in Vietnam. The Network is assisting UC Berkeley doctoral candidate Dara O'Rourke in analyzing data from the "V Tae Kwang" plant operated by Korean subcontractors outside Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

Nike is in the process of replacing many hydrocarbon-based solvents, resins and adhesives with "water-based" materials containing lower levels of organic components. There is only a limited scientific literature on adverse health effects related to use of "water-based" materials, primarily concerning paints and dental products, so the hazards related to "water-based" materials are not well-known.

Network members with expertise in the area of chemical substitution, and "water-based" products in particular, are strongly encouraged to share this information and should contact either Garrett Brown <> or Dara O'Rourke <>.

Tom O'Connor from the North Carolina COSH (Committee on Occupational Safety and Health) and Nancy Lessin from MassCOSH reported on efforts by the 25-group network in the US and Canada to develop relations and activities on the US-Mexico border. One idea under consideration is setting up "sister organization" relations between specific COSH groups and maquila worker/community organizations on the border.

Such "sister groups" could generate exchange visits of members, provide the focus for fund-raising activities and corporate campaigns, and establish on-going relationships between workers and professionals. The "sister" relations might be based on common industries, employers or hazards that COSH groups share with border organizations.

Also at the meeting Network webmaster Peter Dillard reported on the Network's website <> and related cyber activities. The Network's Reading & Resource List has been moved within the APHA website to appear on the webpage of the Occupational Health and Safety Section of APHA <>.

A project with the Global Exchange organization of San Francisco to assist women garment workers in maquiladoras in Honduras has been put on temporary hold because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in the region. Anyone interested in details of the project should contact Garrett Brown <>.

Lida Orta-Anes of the UAW reported on her union's new training initiative (see above) and Marta Segura reported on various border H&S activities organized by UCLA LOSH (see below).

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UCLA LOSH and the Mexico City-based CILAS labor center collaborated on a series of three trainings in Nuevo Laredo on November 28-30th with several local and regional organizations of maquila workers.

On November 28th an all-day class on fighting sexual harassment on the job was conducted by CILAS' Rosario Ortiz. On November 29-30th two simultaneous trainings occurred, one with 16 workers from a Philips electronics plant and a second with 30 workers completing a third training session to become trainers themselves. The first training was coordinated by Manuel Mondragón of the Pastoral Juvenil Obrero organization, while LOSH trainers Marta Segura and Juan de la Torre worked with CILAS' Dr. Francisco Mercader Calderon in conducting the second concurrent training.

In addition, UCLA LOSH is developing "action kits" with information for border worker organizations on how to file complaints with the Mexican Department of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS - which houses Mexico's OSHA), and how to develop materials needed to file a complaint under NAFTA's labor side agreement for "persistent failure" of signatory governments to enforce their own health and safety laws. The "action kits" are currently in draft form and anyone interested in helping review the texts should contact Marta Segura <>.

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Ministerial consultations between Mexico and the US on complaints at the Han Young plant in Tijuana and Echlin Inc. (now Dana Corp.) plant outside Mexico City are still pending. The US National Administrative Office (NAO) of NAFTA, housed at the Bureau of International Labor Affairs of the US Labor Department, issued reports in August 1998 that Mexico's health and safety regulations had not been effectively enforced at the two plants and calling for consultations between the Labor Secretaries of the two countries to discuss the issue.

In October the annual meeting of the labor secretaries of the three NAFTA countries occurred in Canada, but no date for discussion of the US NAO findings was set. A meeting of the Mexican undersecretary of the STPS and the head of the US NAO was held in November in Washington, reportedly setting the stage for ministerial meetings and other activities in early 1999.

Meanwhile students at St. Mary's University law school clinic in Texas have been working with Mexican community-based organizations to prepare another complaint for the US NAO regarding the performance of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) as well as the STPS. Moves are also afoot in Texas to file a lawsuit under Texas law against US corporations responsible for environmental contamination of the US-Mexico border by their maquiladora plants on the Mexican side of the border.

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The work of the Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network was recognized by the Occupational Health & Safety Section of APHA in an award given to coordinator Garrett Brown at the annual meeting of the Association in Washington, DC, in November. Brown was presented with the Lorin Kerr award, the Section's annual "activist of the year" recognition.

Several training materials from Canada are in the process of being translated into Spanish. The train-the-trainer manual of the Canadian Auto Workers union as well as the manual developed by the Canadian Labour Congress is now in translation. For further information, contact CAW Health & Safety Director Cathy Walker <>.

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- "Twilight on the Line: Underworlds and Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border;" book by Sebastian Rotella, available for $25 at local bookstores or W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110.

- "A Culture of Collusion: An Inside Look at the Mexican Press," 152-page book edited by William Orme, Jr.; available for $17 from local bookstores or Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1800 30th Street, Suite 314, Boulder, CO 80301-1026; tel: 303-444-6684; fax: 303-444-0824.

- "Politics, Social Change, and Economic Restructuring in Latin America," book edited by William C. Smith and Roberto Korzeniewicz; available for $23 from Lynne Rienner Publishers at address above.

- "Sweatshops: Solution to A Global Problem," cover story of the fall 1998 issue of Co-op American Quarterly; available for $3.50 from Co-op America, 1612 K Street NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20006; tel: 202-872-5307; fax: 202-331-8166; website:

- "Behind the Swoosh: The Struggle of Indonesians Making Nike Shoes," 224-page book edited by Jeff Ballinger and Claes Olsson; available from Global Publications Foundation, Box 1221, 752 42 Uppsala, Sweden; tel and fax: 018-503-360; e-mail:; website:

- "Fighting for Workers Rights in the Global Economy," 60-page booklet from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Available from: ICFTU, 155 Blvd. Emile Jacqmain, Brussels, Belgium; tel: 322-224-0211; fax: 322-201-5815; e-mail:; website:

- "Migration and Globalization: The New Slaves," 16-page report from the ICFTU, available at the address above.

- "Lessons from Privatizations," 191-page book edited by Rolph Van der Hoeven and Gyorgy Sziraczki, from the International Labor Organization; available for $25 from ILO Publications, ILO, SH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland; website:

- Electronic information on the 1998 "Mexican Safety Congress," as well as hyperlinks to numerous websites (OSHA, NIOSH, NFPA, NSC, etc.) available at: <>

- Commercial offering of three-CD set of more than 225,000 Material Safety Data Sheets available at: <>

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END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. II, NO. 4 - December 19, 1998