Before the United States congress passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, they had established areas of free trade that avoided high tariffs, local taxes and labor and environmental laws. NAFTA would eliminate all tariffs between the U.S., Canada and Mexico and was lobbied as a solution to economic problems for all involved. However, it resulted in a catalyst to massive economic casualties.
NAFTA promised to increase jobs for both the U.S. and Mexico as the GNP rose through unrestricted gateways of import and export goods. What resulted was quite the opposite. U.S. factories shut down and headed across the border in search of low-wage labor and lack of union organization, resulting in massive layoffs. In Mexico, maquila jobs were opening up close to the border in cities like Tijuana and Matamoros. Wages were extremely low, not even close to a living wage, and the recent devaluation of the peso made it a struggle for recent immigrants to these maquiladoras to survive. Those that tried to unionize were easily replaced. In addition, major corporations had no accountability to local environmental protection laws. Maquila workers were not informed when they were exposed to toxic levels of lead and the local cities were often dumping grounds for the factory run-off of toxic chemicals. Since cities were built virtually overnight, the workers did without sewer systems, electricity and potable water.
Alta Gracia, a college apparel company based in the Dominican Republic, has been trying to break the mold of Free Trade Zones by offering its employees a “living wage”. This means that their wage is determined by the cost of “nutritional food, decent housing, adequate health care, transportation, and education for themselves and their children” (Alta Gracia, 1). Their living wage is over three times the Dominican minimum wage. Alta Gracia offers alternatives to other companies within Free Trade Zones by offering higher wages, in addition to their ability to organize and join unions. Alta Gracia was formed in response to workers conditions in FTZ and collaboration with United Students Against Sweatshops and The Worker’s Rights Consortium.
For more information on this topic:
Alta Gracia Apparel
United Students Against Sweatshops
Worker’s Rights Consortium
Reign in Russell
Also view the film Maquilapolis
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