Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: A UCLA study released last week reported that Canada, not Mexico, has claimed more U.S. jobs through NAFTA. According to an Associated Press story, 39,117 American jobs were went north across the border.

A total of 8,8,54 new U.S. jobs were supposedly created because of improved trade with Mexico.

The AP story adds that this study "supports the view of most economists that NAFTA has had only a small impact on the overall U.S. economy, which has produced a total of 6 million new jobs over the past three years. "]

Social, Enviro Cost of Mexico's Maqiuila Boom Not Considered

by Diego Cevallos

Boom is based on the exploitation of workers and that business is carried out with a total disregard for the environment
(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- "Maquilas" -- the foreign assembly plants which sprung up in Mexico following ratification of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) -- account for 40 percent of Mexico's exports, and are a key source of jobs.

But local and international labor, environmental and human rights groups, pointing out that the plants are almost completely dependent on inputs from abroad, argue that the sector's boom is based on the exploitation of workers and that business is carried out with a total disregard for the environment.

In the first quarter of the year, the maquilas generated over 58,000 new jobs and their exports rose to more than $10 billion, 40 percent of the country's total sales in that period, according to National Council of the Maquila Export Industry (NCMEI) statistics.

Maquilas are a form of international subcontracting in which one country, usually an industrialized country, provides capital, technology, and infrastructure to another, which supplies the labor power
From the first 12 plants installed in the country in 1965, the number of maquilas operating here had soared to over 2,600 by March 1997, while the number of people employed by the sector ballooned from 200 to more than 861,000.

The plants, which assemble televisions, computers, furniture, garments, and electronic appliances, have shown themselves to be immune to the economic crises that have shaken Mexico in the past three decades.

"The competitive cost of the country" due its relatively inexpensive labor power and geographical location has meant that the maquila sector has steadily grown in Mexico, said NCMEI president Marco Valenzuela.

By contrast with nearly all other productive sectors, the maquilas neither dismissed large numbers of employees nor stopped growing during the 1980s foreign debt crisis or the recession -- the worst in 50 years -- that followed the late 1994 currency collapse.

But the government of President Ernesto Zedillo has plans to launch, in August, a program for the development of suppliers. The maquilas, whose capital mainly comes from the United States and Asian countries, currently import 98 percent of the inputs used.

The government program aims, through alliances between local companies and accords with other countries, to make national firms the providers of a significant amount of the inputs.

"It is a difficult task, because it requires a high level of technological development," said Federico Pena, assistant director of Nacional Financiera, a state body designing a project to support national suppliers with credit.

But the maquila sector has drawn fire from unions and local human rights groups, which say the boom has been based on the exploitation of workers who work long hours and under poor conditions at repetitive, low-paid jobs.

According to a report released in late 1996 by the international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch/Americas, women, who comprise the majority of workers employed in the assembly plants, are discriminated against in Mexico's maquila sector, where workers are not allowed to organize.

Women are asked about their sexual preference, use of birth control, date of their last menstrual period, and if they are pregnant
In the assembly plants, profits are earned at the expense of the physical and mental health of hundreds of thousands of women, generally from low-income sectors, the group says.

Workers sit or stand in one place for eight to 10 hours a day, repeating the same task, such as attaching buttons or screws, assembling one part of a television or applying stickers.

The report says that before women are hired by the plants, they are asked about their sexual preference, their use of birth control, the date of their last menstrual period, and whether or not they are pregnant. The group charges that the Mexican government tolerates such discrimination and exploitation.

Another cost of the maquila boom in Mexico is to the environment, according to the international environmental organization Greenpeace, which says the assembly plants, most of which operate in the northern states of Baja California or Chihuahua on the U.S. border, dump untreated chemical waste in rivers and streams.

Authorities in the United States and Mexico have announced that by the year 2000 they will have developed, through accords and joint projects, a program for processing the waste produced by maquilas in the border area.

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Albion Monitor July 21, 1997 (

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