July 6, 2001
Maquiladora Workers Can't Meet Basic Needs on Plant Wages
Workers in foreign-owned export assembly plants in Mexico are not
able to meet a family's basic needs on maquiladora wages, according
to a comprehensive study conducted in fifteen Mexican cities. Over
3,500 maquiladoras employ an estimated 1.2 million workers who manufacture
products for export.
According to the study Making The Invisible Visible: A Study of
Maquila Workers in Mexico-2000, in Matamoros, across from Brownsville,
Texas, a family of four needs 193.86 pesos a day to reach a sustainable
living wage. Based on pay slips collected from a number of maquiladora
workers, a majority takes home less than 55.55 pesos (approximately
US$6.00) a day, which is 28.6% of what a family of four people needs
to meet its basic needs. One minimum wage salary in Matamoros provides
only 19.6% of what a family of four needs to earn.
"The wages paid maquiladora workers for a full workweek do
not enable them to meet basic human needs of their family for nutrition,
housing, clothing and non-consumables," declared Dr. Ruth Rosenbaum,
executive director of the Center for Reflection, Education and Action
(CREA), who conducted the research. "In the 15 cities surveyed,
it would take between four and five minimum wage salaries to meet
the basic needs of a family of four. This study documents the huge
gap between what maquiladora workers are paid and what they need."
CREA defines a sustainable living wage as a wage that meets the
basic needs of a family of two adults and two children, enables
them to participate in culturally required activities and allows
them to set aside small savings to plan for the future.
"In community after community, maquiladora workers can afford
only to live in make-shift houses without water, electricity, and
to even talk about nutritious diets for themselves and their children
is a luxury," stated Ms. Martha Ojeda, a former maquiladora
worker, now executive director of the Coalition for Justice in the
"They work long, productive hours for the world's biggest corporations
and still cannot provide the most basic needs for their families,"
explained Ms. Ojeda. "They cannot even afford to consume the
items they produce. This is a violation of Mexican workers' human
rights and of the Mexican Constitution that guarantees a living
wage. The foreign-based corporations that benefit from free
trade have a moral obligation to pay their workers a sustainable
living wage. Even though workers realize that they take a big risk
in organizing independent unions, still they challenge the system
because it is the only way to improve their working conditions and
standard of living."
The study was a joint project of the Coalition for Justice in the
Maquiladoras in San Antonio, Texas, the Interfaith Center on Corporate
Responsibility in New York City (ICCR), and CREA, a social economic
research center in Hartford, CT.
"We found both that workers are paid low wages and the cost
of living is high," explained Dr. Rosenbaum. "The study
refutes the commonly-stated rationale of officials of U.S.-based
companies that workers are paid less in Mexico because the standard
of living is lower and products and services are cheaper."
"Companies tell us that they are paying above the minimum wage,"
said Rev. David Schilling, director of ICCR's Global Corporate Accountability
Program, "but our data shows they are nowhere near paying a
sustainable living wage. We call on all companies to publicly report
what they pay their maquiladora workers and to close the gap between
what they pay and what workers need." For twelve years, religious
institutional investors, members of ICCR, have been pressing corporations
to pay their Mexican employees a sustainable living wage.
"Workers want and need jobs," stated Sr. Susan Mika of
the Benedictine Resource Center in San Antonio. "However, at
these levels of sweatshop wages, the companies are the major beneficiaries.
Workers' dignity and human rights become secondary as the bottom
line of profit becomes paramount."
To see another FNS article (in Spanish) on the subject of Mexico's
minimum wage written by Raúl Ramírez Baena, the director of the
Baja California government's human rights office, go to http://www.nmsu.edu/~frontera/nov00/feat6.html