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Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras

December 5, 2000

On December 12th at 9:00 A.M., The National Administrative Office (NAO) of the U.S. Department of Labor, the agency charged with enforcing the (so-called) NAFTA Labor Side Accords will conduct a public hearing at the San Antonio City Council Chambers, at 103 Main Plaza, Municipal Plaza Building. At the hearing, maquiladora workers from Mexico will testify about the massive injuries they have sustained from their work for Breed Technologies, a U.S. based multinational including crippling repetitive strain injuries and birth defects among their children.

The complaint was filed July 3, 2000 under provisions of the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), the NAFTA Labor Side Accords. Complainants include workers and former workers of Breed Technologies' maquiladora factories in Mexico, the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, 22 Mexican, U.S. and Canadian labor and religious organizations, and a U.S. law school clinic. The complaint charges the Mexican government with a persistent pattern of failure to enforce its own labor laws regarding worker health and safety. On September 7th the U.S. NAO accepted the complaint for hearing.

This is the first NAFTA labor complaint that could lead to the imposition of fines. The NAALC provides for possible sanctions against a NAFTA government for persistent failure to enforce certain of its own labor laws. Monetary sanctions up to .007 percent of the annual total trade in goods between the NAFTA countries are possible for the failure to enforce health and safety, child labor, or minimum wage laws.

According to NAO guidelines, after the NAO has completed gathering information, including information received as a result of consultations with the other NAOs, the submitters, companies, experts, and testimony received at the hearing, it will issue a public report of its findings and recommendations. If the matter is not resolved, the NAALC provides for ministerial consultations and other dispute resolution mechanisms, and possible monetary sanctions.

According to Martha Ojeda, Executive Director of the San Antonio-based Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, "At the hearing, the workers of Breed's Auto Trim and Custom Trim maquiladoras in Valle Hermoso and Matamoros will provide powerful testimony of injuries and illnesses related to indiscriminate and unsafe exposure to chemicals, and from repetitive motion injuries." The factories produce leather-covered steering wheels and shift knobs for automotive makers including General Motors, Daimler-Chrysler, BMW, and Mazda.

Workers required to use toxic chemicals lack adequate protective gear, and the factories lack adequate ventilation systems. As a result, workers suffer chronic skin and eye irritations, dermatitis, rashes, headaches, nausea, respiratory difficulties, chronic sore throats and coughs, dizziness, fainting, memory loss, and high rates of miscarriages and birth defects in their children, including spina bifida and anencephaly. Chronic hand, wrist, arm, and back pain, permanently diminished mobility, carpal tunnel syndrome, and cuts and gashes are also endemic.: