Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Speaking Up for Maquiladora Workers: Garrett Brown Has a Insider's View of the Impact of Globalization on Workplace Health and Safety That Few of Us Have Seen. (Leaders)

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Speaking Up for Maquiladora Workers: Garrett Brown Has a Insider's View of the Impact of Globalization on Workplace Health and Safety That Few of Us Have Seen. (Leaders)

Article excerpt

As coordinator of the Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network, Garrett Brown knows globalization.

He's experienced its impact in both his position as the coordinator for the network, and in his "day" job as an inspector for the Oakland office of Cal-OSHA. Brown, who's made it his mission to inform and educate vulnerable worker populations around the world, sat down with Occupational Hazards to talk about his work and what can be done to protect the world's poorest workers.

OH: Why are you so passionate about helping the Maquiladora workers?

BROWN: These are mostly U.S. companies exploiting workers along the U.S./Mexico border. While we aren't directly responsible for what our government does or for these corporations that take advantage of poor people around the world and exploit the hell out of them, we are responsible for doing something about it.

OH: Has the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had an impact on safety and health conditions or workers' rights in Mexico?

BROWN: It is a great disappointment that the NAFTA complaint process is a meaningless farce as far as workers are concerned.

Workers [at the Autotrim and Customtrim factories owned by Breed Technologies] filed a complaint under the labor rights provisions of NAFTA in 2000. Workers and myself testified at a hearing in San Antonio in December 2000. A two-person team from NIOSH verified worker complaints of toxics exposures and ergonomics hazards.

Imagine our surprise when Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao announced that the formation of the United States-Mexico Bilateral Occupational Safety and Health Working Group settles the issues raised in the complaints. A U.S./Mexico, government-to-government committee will take the next three years to discuss why occupational health and safety laws are not enforced in Mexico, and that's supposed to settle the complaints of workers who are being exposed to hazards? The same functionaries whose inaction caused the complaint will talk to each other for the next three years.

OH: Have the Mexican and U.S. governments failed workers?

BROWN: Clearly. The problem with Mexico is the economy. The Mexican government is indebted to U.S. banks for billions of dollars. Any policy that is perceived as anti-business is economic suicide. The Mexican government can't afford to lose these foreign investors who might leapfrog Mexico to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Guam, Indonesia. …

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