Alarming testimonies of workers in the Mexican electronics industry

Restriction of freedom of association, lack of collective negotiations, wages below the official poverty line; Mexican labour group Centro de Reflexión y Acción Laboral (CEREAL) has published a report on working conditions in the electronics industry in Mexico. Companies that are portrayed in the report include IBM, Jabil, Foxconn, Sanmina SCI, and Microsoft.

Alarming testimonies of workers in the Mexican electronics industry

Restriction of freedom of association, lack of collective negotiations, wages below the official poverty line; Mexican labour group Centro de Reflexión y Acción Laboral (CEREAL) has published a report on working conditions in the electronics industry in Mexico. Companies that are portrayed in the report include IBM, Jabil, Foxconn, Sanmina SCI, and Microsoft.

Mexican labour group CEREAL provides support and legal advice to workers in the electronics industry. CEREAL has gathered workers’ testimonies that provide a snapshot picture of how the lives of electronics workers actually look like. One such story is Ruth’s. Ruth has a son with a disability who requires special care. Sometimes Ruth’s employer forces her to work the night shift, even if she doesn’t have anyone to look after her son. Ruth told CEREAL: “The problem is that they want to arrange our rest days and vacations as it suits them. (…) Sometimes we, as mothers, need days to take our children to the doctor or deal with matters at their school and we ask for days from our vacation or ask for them in advance, like they do, or we propose the possibility of making up the hours in another shift, and but they usually don’t let us.”

For the past years, CEREAL has documented labour rights conditions in this industry. This report is the 6th of its kind. For the first time, a rating of corporate compliance with labour rights is included, based on an evaluation drawing on international human rights standards. 

Context

The electronics industry in Mexico is formed by over 800 companies that specialise in the assembly and manufacture of electronic brand-name consumer products (cell phones, computers, televisions, etc.). The industry also churns out devices for the medical, automotive and aerospace industries. According to the Secretariat of Economy of the Mexican government, the electronics industry represents 4.7% of the annual Gross Domestic Product.

To this day, the main contribution of Mexican workers to this industry is their cheap labour. Mexico appeals to international electronics brands as an attractive destination for investment due to the low production costs. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans that work in electronics factories are modest, anonymous and unorganised workers. They have no say whatsoever in the management of the factories they labour in. CEREAL judges that this situation contributes to a wide range of labour problems. Besides, and as a consequence of, the restriction of the freedom of association and the lack of collective negotiations, wages are very low. Electronics workers and their families often live below the official poverty line. Workers are not free to decide over working day or night shifts. 

Methodology & review

Most of the interviews were undertaken in Guadalajara in the context of legal advice sessions in Cereal's office. Other interviews were done in Mexicali, Tijuana and Reynosa. CEREAL made work of checking facts through additional visits and interviews. CERAL also used a questionnaire covering several issues, such as working hours, salary, benefits, type of contract, chemicals used in the workplace. A draft of the report was sent for review to the companies that feature in the report. Sanmina, Jabil and IBM gave feedback. Their response is included in the report. The other companies did not react.

CEREAL is one of the four project partners in the EC-funded GoodElectronics programme.  

Image: Taken from the article by Grecia Sahagún Núñez, published by  La Jornada Jalisco on January 27th 2015, "Jalisco cierra con exportaciones que ascienden a 39 mil mdd: Sedeco", http://lajornadajalisco.com.mx/2015/01/jalisco-cierra-2014-con-exportaciones-que-ascienden-a-39-mil-mdd-sedeco/