What are sweatshops? Labor Departments around the world defines sweatshops as workplaces that violate two or more basic labor laws – it includes child labor, minimum wage, overtime and safety laws. Sweatshops conjures up vivid images of unsatisfactory working conditions, factories that are dirty, cramped reminiscent of turn of the century New York tenements where majority of immigrant women worked as seamstresses (Given).
True to the assessment, sweatshops workers report horrible working conditions, below minimum wages, no benefits, non-payment of wages, forced overtime, sexual harassment, corporal punishment and illegal termination. In some instances children are found working in sweatshops, instead of going to school as mandated by local laws (“Definition of Sweatshop”).
Most sweatshop operators thrives on notoriety as they force women workers to regularly take birth control pills to avoid pregnancy; or abortion; and for those women who defy the orders, are not given maternity leaves and most often terminated. These conditions are the result of women’s illiteracy, ignorance of workers rights and access to workers union (Given).
Why do sweatshops continue to proliferate? In more advanced countries, sweatshops are not tolerated by government, in fact they have line agencies that process reports of violation of existing labor laws. In the process manufacturers have to follow mandated codes that results in products that are not price competitive in the world market.
Upon the fall of Communism, “free market” followed and the marked rise in anti-union sentiment. Governments likewise pushed for the encouragement of free trade that actually hastened the globalization process. This also brought the creation of the government initiative known as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which seeks to abolish all known trade barriers among countries (“Sweat Shop Labor”).
In so doing, large corporations are now free to seek labor outsourcing; particularly on the poor and impoverished countries with oppressive dictatorial regimes. Through suppression of workers freedom of speech and the right to workers union, low wages are offered that appeal to most large corporations. The NAFTA as an agency can enforce a minimum standard for workers rights only to some extent, but never on “free trade zones” (Mexican maquiladoras), where the workers rights provisions of the agreement simply cannot be enforced (Given).
The Juarez, Mexico Maquiladoras (Sweatshops); The city of Juarez in Mexico lies along the border with the United States, in fact only a 15foot wall separates the two countries. Because of the NAFTA provision on the creation of “free trade zones” (maquiladoras), Juarez became the center of trade with American multi-national companies. 90% of all the products churned out in Juarez are destined for the United States (“Delegation Objectives”).
In the Juarez maquiladoras alone thousands of young women are hired and are recipient of poverty level wages. Since the NAFTA provisions are not binding, inferior environmental regulation permeates the manufacturing plants and agricultural farms coupled with low tariffs, thus the maquiladoras had amassed prosperity and massive amounts of wealth.
To maintain the level of efficiency in the maquiladoras, workers are brutally treated. Those who manifest resistance and disloyalty are subjected to torture, some are abducted and raped and still others are murdered. This has been the situation of Mexican women hired in the maquiladoras, as present records would reveal that over 400 victims had disappeared from Juarez alone. Although these cases have been going on since 1993, yet nothing has been done about it and this violent disappearance and crime remains unsolved and continues unabated to this day (“The Tragedies”).
Even with evidence of the gruesome crimes already brought into the open, authorities in practically all levels of the Mexican government continues to exhibit indifference about the matter. Strong evidence suggests that some high level officials may be part of the conspiracy. Corruption at the higher level of government offices allow these criminal acts to be committed with impunity, secure in the belief that there will be no consequence (Hanna).
Though minor advances have been made in the struggle for justice due in part to the determination of the victim’s families who can never submit to the state and federal authorities bullying to keep them quiet. This has reached significant breakthrough because international non-government organizations are spearheading the campaign so justice can finally be meted out. The grassroots group working with the NGO’s often work under a climate of fear, threats and defamation by government officials.
Stand and be counted
To be honest, I abhor the atrocities committed on the countless women workers in Juarez, Mexico. What happened to them is a form of exploitation perpetrated by supposed to be a sane society in this modern era. So, all forms of legal remedies must be laid out to stop these senseless disregard for human rights and violations of the moral framework.
After being presented with a lengthy account of women workers conditions at the various maquiladora (free trade zones) companies, I can only sympathize with the victims and families for the fate that befalls them. What happened to them was a gruesome tale inflicted to them by their own kind. It could have been more understandable if such treatment happened during the war and succeeding invasion, but from a countryman simply because they are motivated by greed, is the lowest form of inhumanity. Such atrocities should be condemned and perpetrators brought to the bar of justice so a commensurate punishment could be meted out.
Women who work in Mexican maquiladoras are paid wages that vary from $25 to $50 a week, a rate that is not even classified poverty level since pants costs $15 to $20. How can you live with this income, while most American’s believe that Mexican workers can survive with lower wages simply because their living expenses are cheaper. Baloney, because basic commodities such as milk, bread, sugar are much cheaper across the border in the U.S.
Workers have to scrimp to make ends meet, most live in shacks constructed from packing crates which are usually sold (not given free) by companies. How can you expect workers to be comfortable in this situation, they do not have running water, and the water they use are stored in containers previously used by toxic chemicals, further contributing to health risks. How can these flimsy shacks protect these workers from the harsh elements, particularly heat from the sun and severe cold at night (Dr. Kayann).
In the workplace the same miserable condition exists, workers are always subjected to dangerous and inhumane working conditions, such as exposure to toxic chemicals without any form of protection because owners cut costs to increase profitability. Workers are made to stand long hours and not even allowed to turn their heads and converse with a neighboring worker. When a quota is placed it has to be completed and workers have to put in extra hours without additional compensation. The situation borders on slave labor of the past, only that this time they are paid with diminutive wages. Is this practice correct? (Dr. Kayann).
Despite the gruesome treatment, what have NAFTA done to ease the suffering of the workers. Proponents of the NAFTA have always maintained that the U.S. backed Treaty would literally improve wages and conditions of the Mexican workers, the contrary has happened however, since wages have plummeted and the working conditions have turned from bad to worst. Part of the emergency plan at the time (1994) was the devaluation of the peso to provide relief during the Mexican economic crises. It cuts the purchasing power of the peso in half and resulted in untold misery to the workers. The Mexicans suffered in the trade-off, but it brought prosperity to the multi-national companies based in the U.S (Wikipedia Contributors).
Where then is the ethical conducts that the NAFTA treaty envisioned. Can you be morally correct if your company profited at the expense of the hapless Mexican workers at the Juarez maquiladora? We are the bastion of democracy around the world, we encourage free and equal opportunities for all, yet we deprive our neighbor Mexico the right to co-exist with us and put the question of survival of its workers to the brink. How can we do this?
While NAFTA was promoted as the magic potion to heal the ailing Mexican economy, the contrary has happened, it brought the economy to its knees. When heavily subsidized American agri-business products entered the mainstream Mexican economy it forced Mexican farmers off their land because of the low-priced imports. This single blow alone forced some 2 million farmers out from agriculture and suffered the pangs of poverty (Bybee & Winter).
Again with NAFTA’s service sector rules, it enjoined giant firms like Wal-Mart to enter the Mexican market, it sold low-priced goods made by China that totally displaced the local based manufacturing firms. It is reported that a total of 28,000 medium sized Mexican firms have been eliminated. How can Mexican businesses compete in a playing field that is grossly one sided, naturally the weak suffered. Mexico is not a David that can slew a Goliath.
Due to the economic shortfall and the demise of the medium-sized manufacturing firms there is now an oversupply of workers and guided by the governments policy of crushing labor unions, it resulted in sweatshops along the border that pays wages of 60 cents to a dollar an hour. Wages have actually gone down since the NAFTA provisions came into effect.
The overall consequence of the NAFTA provision on the people of Mexico have been the cause of marked reduction in industrial wages, peasant’s were forced off the agricultural lands, small manufacturing businesses closed shop, and the incidence of growing poverty. This would explain why so many desperate Mexicans were lured into the border to find a decent way to make a living under the U.S backed maquiladora (Bybee & Winter).
Those who didn’t find work risked their lives to cross the border to provide for their family. Records would show that there were 2.5 million illegal Mexican immigrants in 1995 and 8 million more have crossed the border thereafter. In 2005, around 400 desperate Mexicans died while attempting to cross the border. A tragedy that should have been averted had the tenets of the NAFTA been willfully designed (Grieco & Ray).
In effect NAFTA failed to discourage illegal immigration for the simple reason that it was not designed as a genuine development program. Had it been devised as such, NAFTA could have raised the standard of living; provided health care; encouraged environmental clean-up; and instigated workers rights in Mexico. Economically speaking, Mexico has now been annexed by the U.S. as the manufacturing base for cheap labor. (Bybee & Winter).
These are the very reasons why I express displeasure over the continued existence of the maquiladora in Juarez, Mexico. And to think that America had a hand in its creation, in the guise of globalization is doubly embarrassing.
The effect of globalization has been grossly exercised in Mexico, as balance of trade was compromised. The NAFTA, the vehicle that was supposed to bring equal economic directions to both countries was glaringly one sided, bringing prosperity to one and misery to the other. The economic tug of war manifested with the closure of businesses in Mexico and the creation of “free trade zones” near the border.
As the Mexican economy was reeling because of unfair competition, the labor force quadrupled and to make ends meet, people were forced to work within the maquidora. Mexican officials took advantage of the economic recession and took its toll on the hapless Mexican labor force, by instigating low wages, harsh and brutal treatment on workers. Some endured in order to survive but the rest crossed the border to seek a better life.
I am really for the dismantling of the maquidora and return the dignity to the Mexican labor force. What happened to the workers in Juarez is morally oppressive, considering that they were forced out of their normal work routine, because of the failure of the NAFTA to provide for the essentials in order to remedy the effects of a floundering economy.
The Mexicans had placed hopes in the American inspired economic bailout system and even acceded to the devaluation of the peso to finally rise from the ashes. Only to be confronted with the evils of the Juarez maquiladora as inspired by the provision of the NAFTA (Paul).
Looking now at the dilemma of the Mexican people, it is only morally right that well-intentioned government agencies correct the failures that had been perpetrated. Make a thorough evaluation of the crimes that has been committed to the hapless women workers of the Juarez maquiladora and expedite justice. Above all a valid rectification and restitution program must be extended to the victims of the atrocities so they can live anew with dignity and self respect.
“Definition of Sweatshop.” Yahoo! Education. 2000. Houghton Mifflin Company. 11 December 2007. < http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/entry/sweatshop>.
“Delegation Objectives: Congressional Delegation to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.” Latin America Working Group. 2003. Latin America Working Group. 11 December 2007.
“Sweat Shop Labor.” InterReligious Task Force on Central America. 11 December 2007.
“The Tragedies of Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico.” Spark. 11 December 2007. <http://www.sparksf.org/grantees/Juarez.pdf>.
Bybee, Roger & Winter, Carolyn. “Immigration Flood Unleashed by NAFTA’s Disastrous Impact on Mexican Economy.” Common Dreams. 25 April 2006. Common Dreams org. 11 December 2007. < http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0425-30.htm>.
Dr. Kayann. “Who Makes It?” Why Shop? Colorado University. 11 December 2007. <http://spot.colorado.edu/~shortk/makes.html>.
Given, Olivia. “Frequently Asked Questions About Sweatshops and Women Workers.” Feminist Majority Foundation Online. September 1997. The Feminist Majority Foundation. 11 December 2007. <http://www.feminist.org/other/sweatshops/sweatfaq.html>.
Grieco, Elizabeth & Ray, Brian. “Mexican Immigrants in the US Labor Force. Migration Information Source. March 2004. Migration Policy Institute. 11 December 2007. <http://www.migrationinformation.org/USfocus/display.cfm?ID=206>.
Hanna, Erin. “NOW to Protest the Brutal Murder of Juarez Women.” National Organization for Women. April 2005. National Organization for Women. <http://www.now.org/nnt/summerfall-2005/juarez.html>.
Paul, Ron. “The Mexican Bailout.” Project Freedom. 1997. 11 December 2007. <http://www.house.gov/paul/congrec/congrec97/er021297.htm>.
Wikipedia Contributors. “1994 Economic Crisis in Mexico.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 10 December 2007. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 11 December 2007. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1994_economic_crisis_in_Mexico>.