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by Paul Hays Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2000 at 12:28 AM

The terrible human costs and environmentals damages due to the Mexican Maquiladora programs. The Mexico City Bus Drivers Union SUTAUR 100 named for a bus route in the D.F. and the PRI crushing of this union in 1996 with various means including kidnapping of Judge Uzcanga and his eventual death.

The Maquiladora Program in Mexico: A critical View Focusing on Employees, The Environment and Developement.

Geography of Latin America : Geography 450

Georgia State University

May 24, 1996

By Paul Hays

In 1965 the federal government of Mexico in Mexico City

D.F. formed the Border Industrialization Program which

allowed the first maquiladoras (assembly plant).This was in

response to the forced return of Mexican contract laborers

(braceros) from the United States as well as the aging of

Mexican baby boom which began in the 1940's. A basic

definition of a maquiladora plant is a factory on Mexican

soil where foreign-based subsidiaries of firms from

other countries can assemble products whose components were

originally produced in the U.S.A. or other county and then

the product is exported back into usually the U.S.A.

Sevral advantages exist such as duty-free entry of

machinery, materials, and tax-free ownership. (O'Brien

1990) Mexico gathers 40% of its total income through these

factories. (O' Brien 1990) 80% of all maquiladoras are

owned by firms headquartered in the U.S.A.; while fully 68%

of the investment in such factories comes from the United

States. (La Botz 1994) The remainder of such factories are

owned by European or Japanese firms. A few are owned by

South Korean or Taiwanese corporations. Geographically

speaking, most of the firms are located within Northern

Mexico near the 2000 mile Mexican-U.S. border. In 1992

there were almost 3,000 factories employing 750,000 workers

according to the text book: ECONOMIC GEOGRAPHY. This border

region 'has a per capita income 50% above the national

average." (4) Mexican maquiladora workers are very young

and 66% are women. (La Botz 1990) Pat O' Brian writing for

the Phoenix Business Journal in 1990 remarked that many

seem to be high-school age. hese workers also seem to have

a low level of education; at least if we compare them to

people in the U.S. A study by the Flagstaff Institute in

Arizona estimated that workers in Nogales a city in Mexico

on the border have completed 'an average of 8.7 years of

schooling, while maquila laborers in the interior averaged

10.6 years.' (O'Brien 1990 While this seems low to us these

averages are higher than in other states of Mexico.

According to the publication World Developement a

monthly publication: the 1994 entry-level salary was the

equivalent of 87 cents an hour. There is a similar level of

benefits some of which include paid vacation, subsidized

cafeterias, small transportation subsidies and food

coupons. Many of these benefits are required by Mexican

law. Some maquiladoras are 'fly-by-night operations and are

reffered to as swallows (golondrinas in Spanish. In both

cases the work is hard and numbing with a 15% annual

turnover rate. many persons who work in these factories

live in squatter housing, in company dormitories or with a


The exploitation side has received much less news in

the U.S. media. Low-wages, repetitive work that causes

carpal-tunnel injuries and the lack of decent housing in

many instances are not the only factors associated with

this work. One major un-addressed problem is with the human

environs. Daniel La Botz wrote an article recently in The

International Journal of Health sciences. He described

frequent rapes when women leave the factories. Sexual

harassment of young women is common as well on the job.

Both severe and less-severe violations often go unreported

due to a variety of reasons accordiong to attorneys, social

workers, and activists. Daniel La Botz also exposed

horrible conditions that related to muscoskeletal

disorders, the use of dangerous solvents that cause

numbness and cancer-causing agents produced in large scales

and illegally dumped. Persons who organize or just try to

do something are fired, harassed or sometimes beaten. Mr La

Botz reported blaclists for those who try to organize

independent unions and most factories are unorganized with

only state-controlled unions allowed. A small independent

union movement exists and was instrumental in the Hyundai

Heavy Truck Chassis Assembly protests which received aid in

the United States from igc.apc.org.

While humans are suffering unfairly and sometimes

horribly (the finding of many dead women in one town) the

environment is being quickly and massively polluted.Much

of the problem stems from the fact that existing laws are

not enforced. For example 'of the hundreds of thousands of

chemical wastes that maquiladoras produce annually, only a

small portion is returned to the U.S., as required by

Mexican Law.' (6) 'The cost is 0 to 00 dollars for

each barrel to be disposed of in the U.S. So many times

maquiladoras stockpile waste at plant sites, sell them to

questionable Mexican recyclers. flush them down sewers or

dump them in the desert.' (7)

TheTijuana River, Imperial Beach in California, The San

Pedro River, The New River in Arizona and the Rio Grande

near laredo have all been abused to severe earth changing

degrees. The colors of the water, smells and affects of

using these waters are so scary that it is obvious someting

is wrong. These degrees of pollution have affected crops,

water and people with daily discharges of up to 25 million

gallons a day of sewage mixed with chemicals at Nuevo

Laredo. Babies born in the Lower Rio Grande have brain

diseases 3 times higher than the National average and I am

certain this is due to chemical pollution of heavy-metals

and rare but deadly chemicals. Many of these are used in

electronics, computers and other industries.

Some people have remmarked that this economic program, while costing young women dearly and polluting large areas contributes to the growth of the Mexican economy. This is only partially true. Much of the input for the products are made in the United States tehn trucked into Mexico. These issues were developed by an article in The Association of American Geographers by R.B. South. Souith was candid with a view that 'the paucity of linkages with indigeous manufacturers and the pattern of forward linkages to US parent plants raise issues of dependency developement and developement for whom.' (South 1990)

One view of this lack of Mexican factories producing their own parts is that managers have some role in this problem. 3 writers in the Journal: World Developement cited factors such as being culture bound or 'avoiding the risk and bother of courting local suppliers while they serve out a 2 or 3 year assigment in Mexico.' (Brannon, James and Lucker 1994) I also read about managers who are given BMW's and drive across te frontier at day do their job and then go back into the U.S. at nightto gated communities.

The amount of business that benefits the United States is staggering. For example, in the San Diego metropolitan area much of the city's .3 billion dollars US that are exported to Mexico are due to the buyers who buy for over

695 maquiladoras on the border at the city of Tijuana according to an article in the LOS ANGELES TIMES.


Brannon, J.T.:James,D.D.Lucker, G.W.: Generating and Sustaining Backward Linkages Between Maquiladoras and Local Suppliers in Northern Mexico. WORLD DEVELOPEMENT 22: 1933-1945.

La Botz, Daniel. Manufacturing Poverty: The Maquiladorization of Mexico. International Journal of Health Sciences 1994. 24: 403-408.

Lee, Patrick; Kraul, Chris. Uniqueness of Maquiladora Could Fade. LOS ANGELES TIMES 11/19/1993. D-1.

O'Brien, Pat. Young Workers Flock to Maquiladora Plants. The Business Journal-Phoenix 7/23/1990.10;1.

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