Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter

March 14, 1999

Volume III, 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 Coordinator

CJM Sets Major H&S Campaign with Auto Union Support

Continued Pregnancy Discrimination in the Maquilas

NIKE Project Report Released

Hesperian H&S Manual Work Continues

Reading & Resource List Update

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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Greetings and I hope your year has started off well! Things on this end have been very busy indeed. As you can see from the information below, there are many opportunities for Network members to volunteer their time and expertise. These opportunities include: the continuing work of the Hesperian Foundation health & safety manual, the new campaign launched by the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, and possible new areas of work in Central America and with U.S. universities trying to implement and monitor "Codes of Conduct" with the producers of their souvenir clothing.

There will be several important Network activities at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exhibition (AIHCE) in Toronto, Canada, in June. Through the generosity of the AIHCE organizers, our Network will have a complimentary booth in the main exhibit area throughout the conference, and volunteers are needed to staff the booth. Several interesting sessions involving issues of ethics, corporate behavior and protecting worker and community health in the global economy are on the AIHCE program, including a panel I will be facilitating on Wednesday morning.

The AIHCE in Toronto will also witness the unveiling of a new caucus in AIHA and ACGIH on the issue of "globalization" and its impact of occupational and environmental hygiene throughout the world. The founding document of the caucus is in the final stages of development and will be circulated among members and local sections of AIHA and ACGIH before and during the annual gathering. A meeting of caucus members is slated for Tuesday evening of AIHCE and consideration is being given to running a slate of candidates on a common platform in the AIHA and ACGIH Board of Directors elections in the year 2000. More to come in the near future!

The issue of production of university-logo T-shirts, caps, sweatshirts and other apparel in "sweatshops" throughout the developing world (and in sweatshops in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere in the U.S.) is becoming a hot topic for students, college administrators, editorial cartoonists and sports stars. Many universities have passed Codes of Conduct to prohibit the use of sweatshop labor (child labor, indentured or prison labor, below-subsistence wages, unsafe and illegal working conditions). But exactly how these Codes will be implemented and monitored, with hundreds and thousands of licensee and sub-contractor factories worldwide, is still up in the air.

The apparel manufacturers want, a la "third party certification - OSHA reform," the right to select and pay the consultants who will "audit" a small percentage of their plants, at times and places selected by the manufacturers, and with limited disclosure of the audit results. In contrast, student groups and non-governmental organizations throughout the world are pushing for genuinely independent monitors, under contract to the universities and not the manufacturers, and involvement of local religious, labor, community and human rights organizations in the monitoring process. What kind of workplace monitoring will be done, and by whom, remains to be seen.

Industrial hygienists, occupational physicians and nurses, toxicologists and health educators, among others, all will have a key role to play in the monitoring that is eventually conducted under the universities' Codes of Conduct. I encourage Network members to stay abreast of developments, and one easy way to do this is to periodically visit several key websites: Campaign for Labor Rights (, Corporate Watch (, Global Exchange (, Resource Center of the Americas (, and Sweatshop Watch ( ). Happy surfing!

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The Health & Safety Committee of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras met in Mexico City in late January to launch an integrated workplace health and safety campaign with substantial support from the United Auto Workers (UAW), the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), and other organizations. The campaign will include multi-level training workshops for maquiladora workers, an action component focused on the failure of the Mexican government to protect maquila workers, and technical assistance by health and safety professionals to conduct occupational health studies jointly with maquila workers.

The two-year plan will focus on workplace hazards facing the one million workers in the more than 4,000 maquiladora plants along the US-Mexico. Activities scheduled for 1999 include three border-wide, four regional, and at least six local health and safety training sessions on the border. The multi-tiered nature of the trainings is designed to generate maquila workers and community organizers capable to conducting their own trainings and local campaigns.

The campaign will also assist worker organizations in filing complaints with the Mexican government's workplace health and safety agencies, including the Departments of Labor and Health on both federal and state levels. These complaints will be coordinated with support from outside Mexico (religious, investor and labor groups) to maximize pressure on the Mexican government to fulfill its legal obligations to protect maquila workers and to focus attention on the US corporations operating these plants.

Complaints under the labor side agreement of NAFTA will also be part of the campaign. A new health and safety complaint is expected to be filed with the US National Administrative Office (NAO) this spring based on hazards faced by auto parts workers in Matamoros and Valle Hermoso, Mexico.

Technical assistance by occupational health professionals to better evaluate and characterize hazards faced by maquila workers is also contemplated. These projects will include assistance in conducting health surveys of workers, blood lead and audiometric testing, and clinical studies of workers with diagnosed adverse health effects. Funding for these activities still has to be raised.

The campaign will also involve the development of wide distribution of several brochures on health hazards in the workplace, including reproductive heath hazards for the majority female workforce, and on Mexican health and safety regulations and workers' rights. Also slated to be circulated by CJM is a draft text of a proposed national workplace health and safety law for Mexico, which currently is without an equivalent to the US Occupational Safety and Health Act passed in 1970.

A report on the impact of NAFTA on workplace health and safety in Mexico is planned to coincide with and contribute to other evaluations of the first five years of the trade agreement.

The UAW and CAW will provide substantial financial, logistical and staff support over several years for this campaign. Other funding and support is coming from the MacArthur Foundation, the Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (LOSH) at UCLA and the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) at UC Berkeley. Additional support from North American unions, such as the United Steel Workers union, may be forthcoming as well. LOSH was the lead professional organization in a series of trainings conducted on the border in 1998.

Coordinator Garrett Brown represented the Network at the Mexico City meetings in January.

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A reported released by Human Rights Watch in December 1998 indicates that women workers in the maquiladoras are still obliged to undergo mandatory, employment-related pregnancy testing as a condition of employment. The report, "A Job or Your Rights: Continued Sex Discrimination in Mexico's Maquiladora Sector," also found that women who became pregnant after being hired risked mistreatment by supervisors and forced resignations.

The latest report, a follow-up to an August 1996 study, describes the cases of 54 women who faced either hiring-process discrimination or on-the-job pregnancy discrimination in 51 factories located in Ciudad Juarez (16 plants), Tijuana (21 factories), Reynosa (10 plants), Rio Bravo (2 plants) and Matamoros (2 plants). Among the US companies reported to involved in discriminatory practices are General Motors, Zenith, Lear, Johnson Controls, National Processing Co. and Tyco International, while non-US corporations include the Samsung Group of South Korea, Matsushita Electric Corporation and Sanyo of Japan, and Germany's Siemens AG.

The 1998 Human Rights Watch report lists the following violations of basic human rights on the job:

"?corporations, the vast majority of which are U.S. owned, forced female applicants to undergo mandatory employment-related pregnancy testing in order to detect pregnancy and deny pregnant women work. In Ciudad Juarez, in particular, we also discovered disturbing means of implementing discriminatory policies: female employees are compelled to show their used sanitary napkins to verify non-pregnancy before they receive permanent contracts. In violation of federal labor law, maquiladora operators in Ciudad Juarez reportedly also refuse to pay female employees their wages during maternity leave; threaten to not allow female employees to return to work after maternity leave; and, in one instance, retaliated against a woman who complained that pregnant co-workers were breathing noxious fumes, and fainting on the job, by firing her.

"In the more than two year since our [1996] report's release, the Mexican government has yet to take any meaningful action to condemn, investigate, or punish this blatant sex discrimination...Rather than condemn such practices, the Mexican government has taken every opportunity to interpret and apply labor law in a way that most favors the discriminatory practices of the corporations and affords women the least amount of protection. In fact, the government has gone so far as to excuse publicly this discrimination."

In 1997 Human Rights Watch was joined by the Mexican National Association of Democratic Lawyers (ANAD) and the Washington, DC-based International Labor Rights Fund in filing a complaint with the US NAO under the NAFTA labor side agreement. In January 1998, the US Labor Department (where the NAO is housed) issued a report on the complaint. The NAO report "affirmed that employers in Mexico's maquiladora sector oblige women applicants to undergo pregnancy screening as a condition of employment and that the Mexican government is aware of this practice."

"The [NAO] investigation also found on-the-job mistreatment and firing of women to constitute sex discrimination, in violation of Mexico's labor law. The investigation found there was a lack of consistency and clarity in Mexican law and its application regarding the illegality of hiring-process pregnancy screening," according to Human Rights Watch.

In its January 1998 report, the US NAO requested the next step in the NAFTA complaint process, that of holding "ministerial consultations" between the US and Mexican labor departments to discuss the findings of systematic discrimination and possible remedies. A date for these ministerial consultations, and for other consultations formally requested in the NAFTA NAO cases of Han Young in Tijuana and Itapsa outside Mexico City, have not yet been scheduled, according to the US NAO office in Washington, DC.

 A copy of the full report is available from Human Rights Watch's website at the specific URL:

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A report on working conditions in one of Nike's five shoe factories in Vietnam was released in March 14th, at the end of a six-month collaboration between Nike corporate managers, Dara O'Rourke at UC Berkeley's Energy Resources Group department, and Garrett Brown, Coordinator of our Network. The report indicates significant improvements at the plant, at the same time that serious health and safety issues remain unresolved.

In November 1997, O'Rourke and Brown collaborated in a public report, issued by the Transnational Action & Resource Center (TRAC), on working conditions in the Tae Kwang Vina (VT) plant outside Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and critiquing an audit of the plant by the Ernst & Young accounting firm. Ernst & Young's report from the audit was leaked to O'Rourke in Vietnam.

Following an on-site visit by O'Rourke in August 1997 and related interviews in Vietnam in July and August 1998, O'Rourke and Brown began a series of information exchanges and face-to-face meetings with top Nike labor practices managers between September and November 1998. O'Rourke conducted a one-day re-inspection of the factory in December 1998.

The latest report indicates areas where improvements have occurred since 1997, including elimination of some volatile organic compound (VOC) solvents, substitution of others with materials with reduced VOC content, installation of ventilation and other safety equipment, and strengthening the health and safety personnel on site.

Remaining deficiencies at the VT plant include the continued use, in some areas of the plant, of VOCs at airborne concentrations above US regulatory limits, other uncharacterized chemical exposures, high noise and heat levels, inadequate and inappropriate use of personal protective equipment in some areas, and the incomplete implementation of a plant-wide health and safety management program.

The full text of the report is available at Global Exchange's website:

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Discussions with grassroots worker and community groups around the world continue as part of the "needs assessment" process for developing the maquiladora/export processing zone health and safety manual to be published by the Hesperian Foundation. Network members are serving as volunteer "liaisons" sending a questionnaire in English and Spanish to organizations in Central and South America, Asia and the Pacific to solicit their opinions about the content and format of the proposed manual.

Once the needs assessment process is completed later this spring, a draft table of contents will be developed and again circulated to the health professionals and grassroots groups involved. When the table of contents is established, volunteers will be needed to write the draft texts of the chapters, which will then be re-circulated to the grassroots worker and community groups for their opinions on content, clarity and style.

The Hesperian Foundation, publisher of world-renowned books such as "Where There Is No Doctor" and "Helping Health Workers Learn," has begun to raise funds for the occupational health and safety manual. At the same time, Hesperian is also working on developing an environmental health book, which may also be of interest to Network members.

Volunteers are still needed for the needs assessment and draft chapter-writing tasks. Contact Todd Jailer of the Hesperian Foundation ("") or Network Coordinator Garrett Brown ("").

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Webmaster Peter Dillard is in the process of uploading [Hey, it's done!!! - Ed] a updated version (to February 1999) of the Network's Reading & Resource List onto the Network's website ( The R&R List will be accessible at both the website and via the web page of the Occupational Health & Safety Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA), where it has been posted since 1996.

We hope to have the new listing, which will replace a very outdated September 1996 listing, up and available by the end of March 1999. Various technical glitches have prevented updates in 1997 and 1998 from being successfully uploaded onto the APHA site.

The R&R List is regularly visited by students, researchers and government agencies, and has been updated by several interns at UC Berkeley working with the Network. The listing includes reference for technical articles, background books, reports and mass media articles, contact information for selected border organizations, audio-visual materials, and related electronic resources on the world wide web.

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The Network gratefully acknowledges the support and hard work of Mary Miller and the Partners for Health organization in Seattle, WA, who donated more than $175 to the Network via sales of calendars in 1998. This was the second such annual contribution and we thank them for their interest and support.

A complete bibliography of the Spanish Language Resource Library at UCLA's Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (LOSH) is in preparation for hard-copy printing and eventual uploading onto the Internet. The titles of all Spanish-language health and safety materials available at LOSH should be published in a printed format in April 1999. LOSH hopes to post full texts of various key materials on its website, accessible for downloading and use, later in the year. For details, contact librarian Sonia Alas at LOSH at 310-794-5967. The website can be found at:

In addition to the border trainings planned as part of the CJM campaign, UC Berkeley's Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) will conduct a training in Tijuana on March 20-21st with the Casa de la Mujer/Factor X group. Twenty-five women maquiladora workers are expected to participate in the "training of trainers" class, which will also have a focus on women's reproductive health issues.

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- Spanish language edition of "AIHA's Occupational Health and Safety Management System: An AIHA Guidance Document"; available for $36 from the American Industrial Hygiene Association, 2700 Prosperity Ave., Suite 250, Fairfax, VA 22031; fax: 702-207-3561; ""

- "NAFTA at 5: A School of Real-Life Results Report Card;" 25-page report from Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch; available from Global Trade Watch, 215 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20003, 202-546-4996; or directly accessible from their web site: "".

- "Report on Labor - Tough Times: Labor in the Americas;" January/February 1999 issue of NACLA: Report on the Americas; available from the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 454, New York, NY 10115, 212-870-3305; "".

- "Alternatives for the Americas: Building a Peoples' Hemispheric Agreement;" working document from April 1998 People's Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile; available from the Institute for Policy Studies, 733 15th Street NW, Suite 1020, Washington, DC 20005, 202-234-9382.

- "Behind Closed Doors: The Workers Who Make Our Clothes;" 32-page report of a delegation of college students to visited Central America in August 1998 with the National Labor Committee; available from the National Labor Committee, 275 Seventh Avenue, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10001, 212-242-3002; or directly accessible from their web site: "".

- "Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility: Bench Marks for Measuring Business Performance;" 80-page document developed by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (US), the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (UK), and the Task Force on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility (Canada); available for $10 from ICCR Orders department, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 550, New York, NY 10115, 212-870-2295; "".

- "Cross Border Links: 1998 Fair Trade and Sustainable Development Directory:" 129-page directory (latest of three) from the Interhemispheric Resource Center; available for $10.95 from IHC, Publications Ordering, P.O. Box 4506, Albuquerque, NM 87196, 505-842-8288; "",

- "Global Village or Global Pillage, Second Edition: Economic Reconstruction from the Bottom Up;" second edition of Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello's useful book; available for $16 from South End Press, 800-533-8478.

- "Pulling Apart: The Deterioration of Employment and Income in North America Under Free Trade;" book by Bruce Campbell. Maria Teresa Gutierrez Haces, Andrew Jackson and Mehrene Larudee; available for $19.95 from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 804-251 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa, ON K1P 5J6, 613-563-1341; "ccpa@policy".

- "The North American Auto Industry Under NAFTA;" 250-page book edited by Sidney Weintraub of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS); available for $24.95 from CSIS Press, 1800 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20006, 202-775-3119; "".

- "1998 Foreign Investment in Latin America and the Caribbean Report" electronic report from the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean; available at "".

- "Sweating for a T-Shirt;" 23-minute video on working conditions in Honduran maquiladoras; available in English or Spanish from Global Exchange, 800-497-1994, "".

- "Twenty Pieces;" 26-minute video on sweatshop practices worldwide, available from Australia's Fair Wear Campaign, 61-03-92515200, website: ""

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END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. III, NO. 1 - March 14, 1999