Comité Fronterizo
de Obrer@s

CFO

For the labor rights and all human rights of the maquiladora workers

 
   
   
   
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Justicia!-Made in Mexico, Worker-Owned

Network Connection

July-August 2007

By Susan Mika, OSB

We all must be involved in changing our world and our mindsets. There are a variety ways for this to happen. For some, it may be designing products that are eco-friendly, for others it may be speaking truth to power.

Photo: Kelsey Urganczyk

For over 20 years, religious shareholders have questioned U.S. multinational corporations about their practices in the factories called "maquiladoras," especially in Mexico. The questions centered on sustainable wages, benefits and working conditions. Workers have often shared with stockholders their stories of low pay, few benefits and problematic factory conditions while working for the Fortune 500 companies.

There are some hopeful signs today, and one of those signs is a small sewing factory called maquiladora Dignidad y Justicia ("Dignity and Justice Maquiladora"). It was started in Piedras Negras, Mexico, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. The workers in the factory make cotton T -shirts and tote bags in various sizes.

Some of these factory workers have been fired or blacklisted from other factories because they raised questions about their rights or encouraged others to express concerns about practices inside the workplace. Now, with pride, these same workers sew labels inside their products that say, "Justicia! 100% cotton, made in Mexico, worker owned."

Photo: Kelsey Urganczyk

I have visited the Maquiladora Dignidad y Justicia on several occasions and have seen the workers making these products. The factory is a witness to the fact that workers can make a sustainable wage, can work under conditions that are not oppressive, and can produce a product that consumers will pay extra money to purchase.

This is the new model of development without exploitation. The workers know this and promote this bottoms-up model of sustainability with great pride and sense of ownership. Their Web site tells us that ownership is 40 percent workers, 30 percent North Country Trade Fair (their U.S. partners) and 30 percent Comité Fronterizo de Obrer @ s (CFO), which is a Mexican non-profit corporation. According to the Web site, "[o]wnership stakes represent decision making power in the business." This is a socially just model that could be replicated in other areas.

Recently, the Socially Responsible Investment Coalition in Texas celebrated its 25th anniversary and purchased small tote bags for all who attended its gala as a way of being in solidarity with the workers. The workers were delighted when we took them a sample of the bags. You could see the pride and excitement in their eyes and smiles.

For More Information

North Country Fair Trade
Purchase bags or T-shirts
www.ethicalgoods.org
EMAIL
: northcountryfairtrade@comcast.net
PHONE: 612-730-4453

Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO)
www.cfomaquiladoras.org

Centro Interfe para Responsabilidad Corporativa
www.iccr.org
EMAIL: info@iccr.org
PHONE: 212-870-2295

Many of us belong to groups that look for items to share at these types of meetings, conventions, chapters and anniversaries. Groups, grocery stores, and cities such as San Francisco are looking for alternatives to plastic bags. Since so many plastic bags end up in landfills or along the road, this is a leap toward responsibility. Socially responsibly sewn bags would be an attractive alternative.

The North Country Fair Trade organization in Minnesota works with the groups purchasing the bags or T -shirts. They assist groups in screening the bags with logos or a printed message on the exterior of the product. This is one small group changing their world and our world for the better, which is a win-win situation for all involved-workers and their families, along with the consumers who know they are buying justly. I believe our purchases speak loudly. We can all make a difference.

Susan Mika, OSB directs the corporate responsibility actions for the Benedictine Sisters of Boerne, Texas. She is director of the Benedictine Coalition for Responsible Investment and the Socially Responsible Investment Coalition. She is a founder of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras.

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www.cfomaquiladoras.org is produced in cooperation with the
Mexico-U.S Border Program
of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO)
Monterrey #1103, Col. Las Fuentes
Piedras Negras, Coahuila
C.P. 26010, México