New Study: Mexicans Unable to Live on Sweatshop Wages

Landmark Study Shows Mexican Maquiladora Workers Not Able to Meet Basic Needs on Sweatshop Wages
Publisher Name: 
Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, et al.

June 28, 2001 -- Workers in foreign-owned export assembly plants in Mexico are not able to meet a family's basic needs on sweatshop wages, according to a comprehensive study conducted in fifteen Mexican cities. Over 3,500 maquiladora factories (assembly plants located near the Mexican border) employ an estimated 1.2 million workers, manufacturing products for export to the United States.

"The wages paid maquiladora workers for a full workweek do not enable them to meet basic human needs of their family for nutrition, housing, clothing and non-consumables," declared Dr. Ruth Rosenbaum, executive director of the Center for Reflection, Education and Action (CREA), who conducted the research. "In the 15 cities surveyed, it would take between four and five minimum wage salaries to meet the basic needs of a family of four. This study documents the huge gap between what maquiladora workers are paid and what they need."

"In community after community, maquiladora workers can afford only to live in make-shift houses without water, electricity, and to even talk about nutritious diets for themselves and their children is a luxury," stated Ms. Martha Ojeda, a former maquiladora worker, now executive director of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM). "They work long, productive hours for the world's biggest corporations and still cannot provide the most basic needs for their families," explained Ms. Ojeda. "They cannot even afford to consume the items they produce.

This is a violation of Mexican workers' human rights and of the Mexican Constitution that guarantees a living wage. The foreign-based corporations that benefit from free trade have a moral obligation to pay their workers a sustainable living wage. Even though workers realize that they take a big risk in organizing independent unions, still they challenge the system because it is the only way to improve their working conditions and standard of living."

Making The Invisible Visible: A Study of Maquila Workers in Mexico - 2000, was a joint project of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras in San Antonio, Texas with over 100 members - labor, religious, environmental, Latino and women's groups - in Mexico, US and Canada; the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in New York City (ICCR), a coalition of 275 North American Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish religious institutional investors; and CREA, a social economic research center in Hartford, CT.

"We found both that workers are paid low wages and the cost of living is high," explained Dr. Rosenbaum. "The study refutes the commonly-stated rationale of officials of U.S.-based companies that workers are paid less in Mexico because the standard of living is lower and products and services are cheaper." In Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, a family of four needs 193.86 pesos a day to reach a sustainable living wage. Based on pay slips collected from a number of maquiladora workers, a majority takes home less than 55.55 pesos a day, which is 28.6% of what a family of four needs. One minimum wage salary in Matamoros provides only 19.6% of what a family of four needs.

"Companies tell us that they are paying above the minimum wage," said Rev. David Schilling, director of ICCR's Global Corporate Accountability Program, "but our data shows they are nowhere near paying a sustainable living wage. We call on all companies to publicly report what they pay their maquiladora workers and to close the gap between what they pay and what workers need." For twelve years, religious institutional investors, members of ICCR, have been pressing corporations to pay their Mexican employees a sustainable living wage.

CREA defines a Sustainable Living Wage as a wage that meets the basic needs of a family of two adults and two children, enables them to participate in culturally required activities and allows them to set aside small savings to plan for the future. To calculate this wage, the study uses actual pricing in the communities where the maquiladora workers live, and converts the prices into the minutes of required purchasing power for each item (for details, see Executive Summary). "Workers want and need jobs," stated Sr. Susan Mika of the Benedictine Resource Center in San Antonio. "However, at these levels of sweatshop wages, the companies are the major beneficiaries. Workers' dignity and human rights become secondary as the bottom line of profit becomes paramount."

U.S.-based companies operating maquiladora factories in Mexico include many of the Fortune 500, such as, Alcoa, Cooper Industries, Delphi, RR Donnelley, Emerson Electric, Ford, General Electric, Johnson Controls and Johnson & Johnson. A broad coalition of students, unions, informed consumers, socially responsible investors, human rights and environmental groups in the U.S. and Canada are supporting the Mexican maquiladora workers' demand to receive a sustainable living wage, which is mandated by Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution which states that general minimum wages must be sufficient to meet the normal material, cultural and social needs to provide for the family and to provide for the obligatory education of the children.

For more information, contact:

Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras

Ms. Martha Ojeda, tel: 210-732-8957

cell: 210-240-1084



Rev. David Schilling, tel: 212-870-2928


web site:


Dr. Ruth Rosenbaum, tel: 860-527-0455


web site:

To order a full copy of the report, contact; Making the Invisible Visible: A Study of the Purchasing Power of Maquiladora Workers in Mexico 2000, from CREA, P.O. Box 2507, Hartford, CT 06146-2507.

AMP Section Name:Labor
  • 104 Globalization
  • 110 Trade Justice
  • 204 Manufacturing