Four Key Trade Union Movements in Puebla, Mexico 2001-2008: A Comparative Analysis of the Efficacy of Non-Governmental and Inter-Governmental Complaint Mechanisms in Addressing Worker Rights Issues in Mexico’s Garment Manufacturing Industry
324 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2010 Last revised: 8 Aug 2010
Date Written: January 31, 2010
Workers in Mexico increasingly turn to international mechanisms for redress of worker rights violations and support for organization of free trade unions. Between 2001 and 2008, indigenous and women workers in the garment manufacturing industry in the state of Puebla, Mexico utilized several non-governmental mechanisms such as corporate codes of conduct, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and Verité as well as inter-governmental mechanisms such as the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC or NAFTA labor side agreement) and the International Labor Organization Committee on Freedom of Association to improve working and living conditions and establish independent trade unions. This paper conducts a comparative analysis of the efficacy of these mechanisms under a single analytical framework, and contextualizes these modern movements in the history of the garment industry and development of labor law and culture in Mexico. While none of the mechanisms were utilized fully or achieved ideal outcomes, non-governmental mechanisms were more responsive to and effective in addressing workers’ complaints than inter-governmental mechanisms. Entrenched wealthy elites, charro (“ghost”) unions and protection contracts are obstacles to achieving workers’ rights and freedom of association in Puebla and to the sustainability of Puebla’s garment industry. While the ILO was more effective than the NAALC institutions, lack of genuine representativity in Mexico’s corporatist labor culture hinders implementation of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda in Mexico. Business relationships in Puebla’s garment manufacturing industry may implicate corporate governance norms and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), but application of the FCPA will not solve all the problems raised in workers’ complaints. The paper concludes that an Ombudsman or Special Rapporteur mechanism housed in the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACmHR) may be the most effective tool to address the complex business, corporate governance, economic, social, racial and human rights problems raised in Puebla’s garment manufacturing industry. The IACHR was partially effective in protecting labor rights activists in Puebla from violence, but more robust utilization of the IACHR would better improve working conditions and the overall sustainability of Puebla’s garment industry.
Keywords: comparative labor law, corporate governance, Mexico, labor, NAALC, global garment manufacturing, ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, Puebla, Worker Rights Consortium, WRC, Fair Labor Association, FLA, Verite, corporate codes of conduct, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FCPA
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation