Friday, April 1, 2011

Not All Maquiladoras are the Same

By: Teal Inzunza
Fordham University

Last Friday we had the great opportunity to visit a maquiladora.  For all those who are unsure, a maquiladora is basically like a factory and in Mexico it is usually a factory that specializes in making some sort of clothing.  I have heard horror stories about maquiladoras when I was in the US.  Human Rights groups spewed stories of sweatshop conditions, low pay, and practically slave master owners of these places.  In fact, Mexican maquiladoras are fairly notorious in the US for being terrible places to work.  Many US companies, especially clothing companies, come to Mexico to set up shop because of the cheap labor.  This has gotten a lot of press within the US because of the unethical and illegal low wages that they pay the workers and the terrible conditions that many of these factories have. We learned that the minimum wage in Mexico is around $57 pesos per day about roughly $5 dollars per day. The Mexican minimum wage, like the US minimum wage, is far from a living wage and we have seen how hard it really is to live on a salary here in Mexico. We are beginning to see how Mexico’s huge gap between the rich and the poor affects the country.  This gap, which is caused corruption and monopolies in government and business, makes it so that “40 percent of Mexicans live in poverty, while roughly 28 percent live in extreme poverty” (Edmonds-Poli & Shirk, 2009, p. 271).  When more than 30 million people are living in extreme poverty in a country, you begin to see how these policies and businesses affect real people. 

Knowing all of the things I just said, I was expecting something much different than what I saw.  Although I had been to a maquiladora last semester, this one was very different.  When we arrived, the staff greeted us enthusiastically and we were ushered into a large room with all of the workers.  This visit was completely different from the maquiladora I had visited before.  The workers were not wearing a uniform, and if fact because we had visited on a Friday, many looked ready to enjoy the weekend and were wearing high heels.  The workers were listening to their own music and were joking and laughing around with each other. This particular maquiladora specialized in making swimsuits, and I took a peak at one of the tags and it was for a very know company in the US.  One of the administrators told us that they were like a family there, and the crazy thing is that I believe him.  He also told us that they didn’t need a union because they had him and that they trusted him to take up their issues when they had them.  We learned that this is one of the better maquiladoras in the country and in fact it was winning an award for how well it treated its employees. I guess the moral of this story is that not all maquiladoras are the same.  

Edmonds-Poli, E., & Shirk, D.A. (2009).  Contemporary Mexican politics.  Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.


  1. Teal, though I have only been to one maquiladora in my time in Mexico I came away with a very different impression.

    First, the while the working space was generally clean and was air conditioned, the workers are only allowed 2 breaks throughout their 8 hour work day: 10-15 minutes in the morning and then 30 minutes for lunch. There were also high expectations for the number of garments to produce during each hour that pressed each worker to focus on their repetitive task. Thus, the workers had very high standards for their work output.

    Also, my impression of our guide was not very positive; for instance he made a few explicitly sexist comments. Further, while he stated that there was no need for a union because the upper level staff is well trusted, I interpreted this as an oppressive measure to keep the workers from demanding more rights and protections.

    Lastly, in this visit I was most struck by the type of labor that creates products sold in the United States. As a consumer, most of what is available for me to purchase is produced in these conditions or worse. I struggle with knowing that in my purchases this type of labor is being supported. I hope that there is continued attention to working conditions in maquiladoras to affirm the dignity and worth of all employees.

  2. I'm a first year here at Augsburg College, my name is Jaia Chang. I'm in the Social Work 280 course with Nancy Rodenborg. Thanks for sharing your experience from Mexico. It was really interesting hearing what you have experienced because I have heard about companies that had moved to another country. I have some knowledge that it was happening all over the country but being able to be at one of those places, hands on is pretty amazing. I personally haven’t gotten that chance to experience something like that but in the future I would love to do something like that. It’s also really cool how you visited two so far and you compared both of them. Seeing how one another is different and being able to share that with us is cool. I mean like since you already been to one you already kind of know what it’s going to be like but at the end it wasn’t anything the same. Thanks for sharing and I hope in the future I will get to experience something like that.
    Jaia Chang

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience! I think this example shows that as social workers we can't have a 'one size fits all' theory, model, or mind frame. Each culture is different and every individual within that culture is different as well. Your experience demonstrates this and reminds all social workers to keep an open mind.

    I thought it was great that the maquiladora was being rewarded for the working conditions, a little positive reinforcement. It's great that you got to see one that has better working conditions than the others in order to change the stereotype you and the other students may have had when walking into the factory.

    I keep learning so much from these blogs about Mexico's culture and the nuances that are present in it too. Again, thank you so much for sharing your experience!

    Emily Dahley
    SWK 280 Augsburg College

  4. After reading the blog a few things immediately stood out to me. I guess I tend to question authority so how much of the good was a show? Were the workers given a "pep" talk before the arrival of visitors on a tour. Also how much of a role does being part of a primarily collectivist culture have to do with the feeling like family? I guess a place like that is making strides forward and who am I to force my beliefs on them but I guess it is not up to me to necessarily disagree or agree as I have only heard the stories of distant lands and have yet to encounter anything like that in a different country.

  5. This is so interesting! Like many people in the U.S I thought all of these companys were bad and tried to stay away from companys who used them. To learn that you have now had a good and bad experience inside one of these factorys is something not many people can say. My question is if this way works and everyone seemed happy why cant more factorys run like this? it makes me sad to think that they are recieving an award when this should just be the expected treated of all workers. Thanks for this story!

    Melanie Wigen