manufacturing industries do not belong to corporate leaders alone and are prized national assets. They have given us our high
standard of living, our power and respect in the world, been a model for the rest of the world to imitate and allowed us to
out-produce armaments over our enemies during wartimes. Without these industries America loses.
our nation’s first colonies, there have been opportunists who have exhibited a penchant for using racism, elitism and
the rules of the market place jungle to exploit fellow human beings to enrich themselves. Wealthy southern plantation owners
and other prosperous business leaders of their day introduced African slaves to the Colonies in the 1600’s. By 1860
the South had over 4 million slaves who were bought and sold at auctions like livestock. They labored in the fields and elsewhere-producing
products for the benefit of their masters.
received no wages, were denied civil rights and they and their families were at the absolute mercy of those masters who owned
African slavery is illegal in the United States today, American slavery does however exist in other forms. That same old U.S.
entrepreneurial insatiability for financial gain, regardless of the human cost, is now being exported together with middle
class American jobs to other less fortunate nations.
globalization has contributed to the initiation of shockingly cheap offshore product production in places like China, which
surpasses Mexico’s deplorable low cost labor status. That said, Mexico, because of its close geographic proximity to
the United States, has been particularly targeted by U.S. industry for wage-slavery and consequential human rights violations.
term for this Mexican neo-slavery is maquiladora.
Mexican maquiladora factory allows duty free temporary importation of machinery, parts and materials to Mexico as long as
the produced goods do not remain in Mexico. About 90% of what is produced in maquiladora factories returns to the United States.
Companies such as auto, clothing, toy, electronics and others transport their raw materials and/or disassembled parts to these
factories, and the Mexican workers labor to complete the manufacturing processes. The products are then returned with very
little duties, tariffs, taxes and labor costs to places like Ford, GM and IBM or to the shelves of mega-stores like Kmart
full impact of the maquiladora concept kicked in with the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. NAFTA was politically
designed to bring special protections to financial interests at the expense of labor in the three nations of Canada, Mexico
and the U.S.
the Republicans and Democrats jointly supported NAFTA, and it was signed into law under President Clinton. It began in January
of 1994 and triggered an immediate flooding of U.S. investment into Mexico to build more maquiladora factories. Ross Perot,
who opposed NAFTA and ran against Bill Clinton for President, said that the “Giant Sucking Sound, would be the jobs
heading south to Mexico.”
business leaders have been quick to seize upon the opportunity to take advantage of these desperate workers. NAFTA has been
a disaster for working people and the communities in which they live in all three nations. Today we clearly see that the results
of NAFTA have led to a weaker America with devastated and shuttered manufacturing communities. Mexican wages have dropped,
and almost 20 million more Mexicans now live in poverty.
is common knowledge that many U.S. politicians get hefty campaign contributions from industry. The only NAFTA winners have
been the companies and politicians.
are about 3,000 high profit maquiladora factories along the 2000-mile U.S.-Mexican border with over 1 million Mexican workers.
As of 2006, maquiladoras accounted for 45% of Mexico’s total exports.
impoverished maquiladora workers really have few choices and are forced to choose between working for starvation wages or
not having employment at all. A husband and a wife working full time jobs in these factories still cannot earn enough money
to decently support a family of four. It is economic subjugation. In too many instances, workers put in grueling 10 hour shifts
6 days a week doing difficult unhealthy jobs at an unreasonable work pace often around hazardous and toxic elements.
a Flint based labor activist / leader in the 1980’s, I observed the auto industry beginning to shift large numbers of
America’s premier jobs to oppressed foreign workers. I began speaking out and taking groups of autoworkers to Detroit
to stage protests and demonstrations. We did TV and radio shows and confronted G.M.’s CEO Roger Smith at GM’s
stockholder meetings. We raised issues like corporate restructuring without regards for the social consequences, the practice
of apartheid in G.M.’s plants in South Africa and the exploitation of their foreign workers.
the stockholder floor, I would challenge and debate Roger Smith and tell him his Mexican workers were falling over on the
assembly lines from hunger. He once shot back that wasn’t true because GM was furnishing one meal per day to these workers.
That statement was immediately picked up and then quickly forgotten by the national press. The truth was that GM was having
a yearly labor turnover rate of almost 90%, because workers couldn’t afford the meager costs necessary for work including
food, clothing and transportation expenses.
plants in general have an especially dismal record of exploitation relative to women and children. It has not been uncommon
to find young children as young as 12 years old working in these factories under forged documents.
1999 the net wage for the average maquiladora worker was $55.77 per week, after slicing the 4% union dues of $2.32. The weekly
minimum living expense for one worker was $54. In addition to the pathetic wages and disregarded labor standards, the living
and health conditions around these maquiladora factories are beyond belief.
recent New York Times article said that because these workers have no financial resources, a nutritious meal for their family
is an unattainable luxury. Many live in a squalid grid of dirt streets, rotting garbage, swamps of open sewers with unsafe
water, overburdened or none existent schools and violence against the women.
December, 2007 Global Exchange article, discussing maquiladoras since NAFTA, discussed how worker settlements were sprouting
up around these factories with housing made from cardboard, sticks and sheet metal. These shanties had neither sufficient
clean water nor adequate sewage systems. The article talked of sweatshop blue jean maquiladoras making millions of dollars
off their workers, including children under the age of 11 and of young women workers suffering sexual harassment. It told
of laborers putting in 12-hour workdays producing thousands of pairs of Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Wrangler jeans
per week for weekly wages of 700 pesos ( $53 U.S.). These jeans were being sold in Los Angeles stores for 1000 pesos ($75
U.S.) per pair.
jean factories pollute the local water. The stone washing and bleaching leaves highly toxic wastewater with heavy metals in
the effluent. The article stated that the runoff makes the nearby farm fields become iridescent and radiates a metallic blue
because of this chemical run off.
article titled Maquila Neoslavery by National Catholic Reporter, Gary MacEoin, who was a human rights activist specializing
in poverty in Latin America, stated a typical maquila 9-hour day quota for a woman is to iron 1,200 shirts. MacEoin said “few
survive the unhealthy working conditions, poor ventilation, verbal abuse, strip searches, and sexual harassment for more them
six or seven years.
Ruth Rosenbaum, executive director CREA, said the wages do not enable them to meet basic human needs of their family for nutrition,
housing, clothing, and non-consumables and that one maquiladora worker provides only 19.8% of what a family of four needs
Rachel Stohr talked of the brutal treatment, the wage slavery, of how the Mexican government gains economically from these
factories and how the enforcement of Mexican labor laws is just not happening in a 2004 University of New Mexico story.
the U.S. companies who run maquiladora factories, the workers are expendable and only the financial investment is important.
According to Rev. David Schilling, director of ICCR’s Global Corporate Accountability Program, for years religious institutional
investors have been pressing corporations to pay their Mexican employees a sustainable living wage.
Ojeda, director of Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, said “ they work long productive hours for the worlds
biggest corporations and still cannot provide the most basic needs for their families, they cannot afford to consume the items
Chasnoff wrote in the COMITE FRONTERIZO DE OBRER S that the Immigration Clinic of San Jose says that it hears of so much rape
in the maquiladoras that it is disgusting.
of the companies who participate in this elitism and human deprivation are historically not strangers to oppression, and exploitation.
Award winning author Edwin Black, in his new book Nazi Nexus, discusses the complicity of American companies like Ford, General
Motors, and IBM with their connections to Hitler’s regime against the Jews beginning in the 1930’s. Interestingly
these same three companies have continued to find themselves on the wrong side of the moral table throughout their histories,
as evidenced with the current accusations being directed against them for practicing apartheid in South Africa and also with
the maquiladora factories they each run in Mexico.
the writing of a December 1998 Business Week article called Mexican Makeover, IBM had boosted exports from $350 million to
has maintained a presence in Mexico since 1925. In David C. Kortens book, When Corporations Rule the World, he told of how
in 1987 Ford Motor Company tore up its Mexican union contract, fired 3,400 workers, and cut the already low wages by 45 percent.
When Ford workers rallied around dissident labor leaders, gunmen hired by the official government-dominated union, shot workers
Motors is another key industry named in Edwin Black’s Nazi Nexus. A July 9, 1997 Campaign for Labor Rights newsletter
in Washington, DC stated the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras were protesting the firing of 33 GM maquila workers
for a work stoppage due to wage issues. These desperately poor workers agreed to a settlement with a mere $32 in food coupons
redeemable in local stores. GM had six plants at this location. This letter stated that GM’s maquila workers are faced
with a brutal economic crisis and the less than $40 per week wage that they took home didn’t cover the basic nutritional
requirements of their families. The newsletter stated that these workers were some of the most productive industrial workers
in the world, and General Motors employed 70,000 of them in maquiladoras around Mexico.”
is a long list of U.S. based multi-nationals including Fortune 500 companies who run Mexico’s maquiladora factories.
Mexico’s Maquila Portal, stated how many factories and how many workers were involved in 2006. Some examples were…
Delphi, which split off from General Motors and
remains a major auto supplier, has 66,000 workers and 51 maquiladora factories
Lear corporation 34,000 workers and 8 factories
General Electric 20,700 workers and 30 factories
. Jabil Circuit 10,000 workers and 3 factories
Visteon 10,000 workers and 16 factories
Whirlpool 7,500 workers and 5 factories
Emerson Electric 5,678 workers and 7 factories
Motorola 5,290 workers and 2 factories
Honeywell 4,900 workers and 3 factories
Plantronics 3,600 workers and 5 factories
Bose 2,900 workers and 2 factories
Mattell 2,578 workers and 1 factory
Environmental Justice case study: Maquiladora Workers and Border Issues, by Elyse Bolterstein, stated that the 2000 mile border
between the United States and Mexico had become what the American Medical Association called, “a virtual cesspool and
breeding ground for infectious disease”. The article says workers had to endure terrible working conditions that included
exposure to potentially hazardous materials and that one-fifth of a surveyed group of workers suffered from work related illnesses.
The article stated that loosely enforced Mexican environmental laws and a lack of suitable waste storage caused the border
to be among the most polluted areas in Mexico. Border residents are exposed to high air pollution levels, and there are considerable
toxic materials dumped into the Rio Grande poisoning the communities along the river and causing illnesses like hepatitis.
the hopeless plight of these hurting Mexican families for a moment. As U.S. industry
has exported jobs to Mexican workers, who they expect to work for starvation wages, these same workers have been exporting
themselves to the United States. Jeffrey Passe, a demographer at the PEW Hispanic Institute, says they want to come here legally
to make a decent living, but their circumstances are so harsh that these people are jumping the fence to come here illegally.
corporations’ public relations departments counter the reality of their behavior by arguing that maquiladora workers
are not the least paid workers in Mexico, and therefore the companies have every right to demand low wages and extract what
they can from these vulnerable people. They say their own government condones the maquiladora system.
compassionate consumers who buy these companies’ products don’t want to support this exploitation and the despicable
human rights violations. The next time they put on their Wrangler jeans, consumers should consider the grueling hours, the
hunger, the sexual harassment of the women, the stolen lives of the children and the destitution of the workers in the various
maquiladora garment factories. When they buckle up their children in their automotive seat belts, they need to think of the
Mexican worker who made that seat belt and cannot afford an education or decent home or future for their children. The next
time they buy their grandchild a Mattel toy or sweatshop Barbie from the world’s largest toy maker, they need to consider
not only the companies oppressed workers in Mexico and China, but also the recent recalls over safety concerns over their
foreign produced toys.
we all need to think about this because when we purchase the products produced by demoralized workers, we are not only losing
American middle class jobs but also directly supporting this neo-slavery.
civilized nations there are minimum wage laws, child labor laws, health and safety laws, environmental laws and laws against
sexual abuse and exploitation. Politicians actually have a desire to protect their workers. U.S. politicians should be ashamed
of themselves for allowing products to come into this country that were made by exploited workers. Instead they, with their
corporate colleagues, have enabled it, while slicing U.S. manufacturing capacity and painfully eliminating good paying middle-income
jobs. These politicians have substantially weakened America.
irony is that while we wish to buy products made by workers who are not exploited, the
is fast approaching when the only products you can find made in the U.S.A. will be in the antique malls.
companies professed that these factories would benefit everyone connected to them. They lied.
wages, which improves living standards in poor countries, is in direct opposition to their best interests, and social responsibility
just isn’t a consideration. Sooner or later, as the rest of the world becomes more powerful and the U.S. becomes less
dominant, the world will remember the abuse that U.S. corporations and political leaders visited upon them. There could be
retribution to pay.
successful double talk of Wall Street and powerful industries arguing that blind open free trade, at the expense of powerless
workers and their families, would promote democracy and improve the living conditions has been proven false. The exploitative
maquiladora system is the kiss of death to all of the workers of the world.