Labor activist Martha Ojeda has dedicated her life to fight for fair trade not free trade and to defend the rights of maquiladora workers, Mexican factory and plant workers near the U.S. border. She also works to educate students on the negative impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which she spoke about in an address yesterday.
“The only winners of (NAFTA) are the corporations. And all social sectors of civil society working class, middle class, small and medium enterprises, students and universities and even governments need to unite to fight against these negative impacts,” said Ojeda, who is the executive director for the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras.
Maquiladora workers face air and water pollutions, poor living conditions, birth defects and miscarriages from toxic exposure, sexual harassment and police brutality while earning about $50 a week, Ojeda added. “These workers are in similar or worse condition than before 1995 when NAFTA was put into effect,” Ojeda said. The promises of a higher standard of living and an increase in employment in the border zones of Mexico have merely become broken promises.
The current recession in the U.S. has led to more than 300,000 maquiladora employees losing their jobs.
While pressuring the corporations to respect human and labor rights, Ojeda and CJM are pushing the Mexican government to implement stricter environmental and labor regulations on the foreign plants in Mexico.
CJM is also attempting to better educate maquiladora workers through empowerment workshops, which address economic issues, labor rights and toxicology.
Ojeda said raising the public”s and the consumer”s level of awareness of the negative impacts is crucial.
“If people don”t have consciousness for these problems, then they are the ones that are making profits for the corporations,” Ojeda said.
School of Public Health staff member Jose Martinez said that he found the presentation very informative.
“Many times we just don”t get to hear about these issues and consumers are not very informed. It”s great to put up presentations like this one to continue to educate us the consumers and to increase our awareness,” Martinez said.