The Misfortunes of the Maquiladoras

November 30, 2011

Political Theory


Illegal immigration always seems to be in the news. Many people have differing opinions about the illegal aliens from Mexico. However, considering their living conditions, can you really blame people for trying to escape poverty and coming to a place where they think they can create a better life for their families and themselves?

A maquiladora producing clothing for the U.S. market (SocialistWorker.org)

Currently maquiladoras, the Spanish word for an assembly plant, are scattered along the border of Mexico and the United States in shantytowns. Big business such as Nike, General Electric, Ford, Sony, and many more have plants with maquiladora status.

The maquiladora system allows international corporations to set up factories in Mexico to produce goods that are exported back to the original country. Corporations are able to avoid taxes and trade restrictions. The maquiladoras hire locals to work for

extremely low wages. The average wage per week per factor worker is  $40 to $50. Companies have reported saving up to $30,000 per labor employee per year. This is a mutually beneficial relationship for US companies and the Mexican government. Companies get their products produced for a fraction of the cost and the Mexican government creates a thriving export economy. The only party that isn’t positively impacted is the factory workers.

The average maquiladora worker are women ages 14-20.  The usually work 60-hour weeks and have very few breaks. Women are also often subjected to sexual harassment. But low wages and a few sexual passes from their bosses are sadly the least of their worries. Workers are not given proper training or given safety equipment for operating machinery. Factories are often too hot and loud and have poor ventilation. Chemicals in the factories are marked with English labels that many of the workers cannot read.

The maquiladora shopfloor is a space where the cheap, temporary labour meets a sexualized form of femininity through the female maquiladora workers. (commodifiedlife.com)

Many of them are suffering from chemical burns and are unsure of how to treat their injuries. The worst part is they cannot complain about their working conditions. People who speak out against the poor treatment get fired or worse blacklisted. People who lose fingers or are injured by the machinery are generally fired the next day. This way bosses do not have to give their workers any benefits of compensation and blame the employees for the accidents. Women who become pregnant also are fired. Before a woman can even be hired she must take a pregnancy test of if she tests positive she will not be hired.

Many people try to rally the maquiladora workers to fight for their rights, but many employees are unaware they even have rights. When they do come together to fight they receive threats or are fired. While it is important for the workers to fight for their rights, they also need to have a job in order to provide for their people. It is a vicious circle that workers are trapped in.

Sadly this problem will be difficult to solve since there is so much corruption within the Mexican government. Officials usually just turn a blind eye towards the poor treatment. Improvements are a slow process, however many of these people who are suffering do not have the luxury to just wait around for someone to step up and solve the issue.

Maquiladora workers protesting with signs that say "We demand compliance with the law".

How do you think we could solve this issue? Would foreign companies need to step up and pull their business from nations with poor labor laws? Would consumers need to protest companies that do business with countries with poor labor laws? Is there a practical solution to the problem? Furthermore what would Jean-Jacques Rousseau think of this situation? Rousseau already had strong opinions about inequalities between men. He believed that the development of technology (such as assembly plants and factories) led to changes in behaviors, which represented the beginning of inequalities. What about his idea of division of labor and how the dependence on one another leads to more inequality? What are your opinions?

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One Comment on “The Misfortunes of the Maquiladoras”

  1. nasearc Says:

    Unfortunately I do not think there is a practical answer to this problem. If foreign companies abandon their plants in Mexico, in order to prevent the injustices against the workers, they would lose money by having to produce elsewhere and the workers would be jobless. Also if the workers were to start a protest and abandon their jobs to fight for their rights, they would be replaced by one of the many who is willing to work with bad conditions and little pay. I believe that Rousseau would see this as a perfect example of how technology and industry create inequalities in the world. The people who work at these factories in Mexico are not given basic human rights and were not treated with respect. Rousseau would agree that because the foreign companies and the Mexican workers depend on each other, neither are willing to do anything to diminish the inequalities that the workers must face.

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