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As maquila or maquiladora be assemblers in northern Mexico and in Central America called, the imported items or semi-finished goods to three-quarters or finished goods for export composed. They are the destination of numerous migrants and a rapidly growing industry in low-wage areas.

The companies work in duty-free production zones ( Zona Franca ), which were established around 1970 and grew particularly strongly in Mexico due to the NAFTA free trade zone (1994). They were supposed to stimulate the local economy and create jobs in underdeveloped regions, but are now increasingly viewed critically by the USA because of poor working conditions and one-sided dependence on exports. In the short term and locally, the maquilas help reduce poverty ; it is doubtful whether they will do so in the long term.

The name maquila (dora) is derived from the Spanish word maquila . In colonial times, this was the name of the meal that the miller took for his work, or his share of the grain that he kept instead. The term refers to a partial step in a longer process.

Economic and social aspects

The economic form of the maquila factories can be viewed as a special case of nearshoring , in which the imported raw materials or preliminary products come from the same country to which the finished goods are then returned. Operators are transnational (mainly US ) companies such as Chrysler , Ford , General Motors , Siemens- Albis, Philips or Toshiba . The free export zones and the industries of the maquiladoras are found particularly in regions of Latin America , which have low transport and labor costs to the destination country.

In northern Mexico, for example, many raw materials from abroad are processed into goods and clothing that are intended for the US market. This development was facilitated by the NAFTA free trade area, which has existed between the USA, Canada and Mexico since 1994 . Although it has brought about a rapid upswing in the labor market in underdeveloped regions , as desired, it has also brought about many social and environmental problems.

The massive price pressure from globalized markets means that labor rights can hardly be enforced in maquila factories and there are no unions. The employees - mostly women - work with low pay under often inhuman and health-endangering conditions. Since there are hardly any other earning opportunities and the rush is high, weekly working hours of up to 60 hours are not unusual and many women have to undergo a pregnancy test when they are employed .

According to a report by the ILO , there were around 3,200 companies with 2 million employees in 2003, although many men went to the United States to look for work. The export share of the products manufactured by maquiladoras was 83 percent. In the meantime, illegal migration from Mexico to the USA has been largely prevented, which has reduced the proportion of women in maquila businesses from often over 80% to almost 60%. At the same time, acts of violence and the sexual exploitation of women are increasing.

In the course of the COVID-19 pandemic , there are said to have been increased numbers of infections and deaths in various plants near the border. Many companies are said to have accepted compliance violations under pressure from the US ambassador in order to maintain supply chains to North America .

Development of the maquila industry

Historical development in Mexico

Since the late 1930s , Mexico applied the ISI (Import Substitution Industrialization) trading system to build the economy and reduce dependence on imported products. Domestic production became protectionist - e.g. B. through import duties - promoted. But around 1965 the government made a radical turnaround from the ISI model to the first maquila programs. They now allowed foreign companies to produce almost tax-free along Mexico's northern border and to trade duty-free with the USA. The maquiladora initiative was less an alternative model to industrialization than a policy of job creation and migration from the overpopulated south around Mexico City .

The first Border Industrialization Program (BIP) project was founded in 1965 under President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz . It was supposed to stimulate the economy of the states in northern Mexico, promote the standard of living there and at the same time relieve the huge metropolitan area of ​​the capital. It was also intended to create jobs for thousands of unemployed Mexican farmers who returned from the United States when the Bracero program, founded during World War II , came to an end in 1964 . Many of them stayed in the border region, where duty-free production zones have now been set up and foreign investors have been attracted.

The maquiladora industry and its export orientation to the USA made the border region from an economic wasteland to the most dynamic region in Mexico: Unemployment fell continuously, economic growth was twice as high as the national average. Nevertheless, the maquiladoras do not have a good reputation. Low wages, poor working conditions and safety, a ban on trade unions and constant fear of being laid off make factories an unstable and sometimes dangerous working environment. The pollution and the strong water consumption weighed on the population in addition.

In 1980 there were 620 maquiladoras with 120,000 employees along the US border. When Mexico joined the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in 1986 , maquiladoras were also created in other parts of the country - around 1,500 for over 400,000 people by 1990. It now dominates the textile industry and the manufacturing sector and distributes the industrial added value better. Under the ISI model, Mexico City had 40% of industrial production, while in 1990 25% of Mexico's economy was in the north. The signing of the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994 led to further growth in factories and employees.

Growing border towns Juarez and Tijuana, but poverty

The city of Ciudad Juárez clearly reflects this development: the influx of workers caused the population to grow from 200,000 in 40 years to almost two million in 2005. The insignificant border town became the fifth largest city in Mexico, generating 1.6% of total gross domestic product . Here are 15% of all Mexican maquiladora companies and almost a third of their employees: in 2000 there were 312 factories and 265,000 workers, to which 30,000 new jobs are added annually.

The same can be said of Tijuana , the fastest growing city in Mexico. Together with San Diego, it forms the largest twin town on the Mexico-USA border. Officially, the city has 1.5 million inhabitants, but independent estimates speak of 3-4 million. With the desire to migrate to the USA or to work in one of the maquilas, Tijuana attracts around 100,000 people every year. It grows 2–3 hectares a day, and according to a study by the Baja California region , 57% of the urban area is "irregular in origin".

Another maquiladora city is Mexicali , the capital of the state of Baja California , which is on the same level as Tijuana but further to the east and also borders the USA directly. The sister city on the US side is Calexico .

The low weekly wages of 30 to 60 dollars and the lack of trade unions and environmental laws are attractive to the maquila companies . The maquilas throughout Mexico employ around one million people and around 200,000 in Tijuana, the majority of whom are women. They work 12 hours a day under sometimes harmful conditions (heat, dust, emissions). Anyone who rebels against the working conditions or even asks critical questions quickly finds himself back on the street.

Despite the economic boom - which was dampened in 2003 by a crisis affecting the United States - the gap between rich and poor has widened since the NAFTA Agreement: 40–45 million of Mexico's around 100 million people live in poverty.

Maquiladoras in Central America

Starting in Mexico , the maquila economic system has also established itself in some Central American states. Here too, on the one hand, it contributed to the creation of new jobs and certain economic development, on the other hand, it did not solve the socio-political problem of (too) cheap labor. As in Mexico, there was an economic slump from around 2001 and the closure or reduction of numerous production sites, some of which later migrated to even more underdeveloped regions.

Maquiladoras are most strongly represented in Nicaragua , Guatemala and Honduras , where tens of thousands of people each work in assembly plants for North America, Western Europe and East Asia.


See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1.  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  2. Sandra Weiss: Corona crisis. Companies in Mexico ignore corona requirements - even under US pressure. In: German wave. Public Law Institution, April 29, 2020, accessed on May 20, 2020 .
  3. Madeleine Wattenbarger: US-Mexico border factories pressured to stay open despite Covid-19 risk. Companies - and US government officials - have urged Mexican government to keep factories running at any cost. In: The Guardian. May 14, 2020, accessed on May 20, 2020 .