For decades, the city of Piedras Negras was known as one of the Mexico’s most important industrial centers. That industrial development led to the creation of maquilas (textile and garment factories), as well as the arrival of major international automobile factories. It seemed like an attractive promise of economic growth and job creation. However, over time, the jobs offered did not give workers a decent, fulfilling life. In addition to long workdays, there were on-the-job accidents, low salaries and endless labour-related, psychological and even sexual abuse in the factories.
This situation led a group of working women to organize themselves to defend their rights and made them think about a business model that could meet the needs of the maquilas and ensure decent treatment of the workers.
Better Conditions for Workers
To break the paradigm of exploitative business models utilized by factories, the Border Committee of Workers (CFO) created the Dignidad y Justicia (Dignity and Justice) maquila. There, women like Consuelo and Natalia, who have vast experience in garment making, can develop their skills and create a functional and respectful working model.
“Our maquila is very small, with four independent workshops that come together if we have a larger project. This way of working is much more flexible than other companies where the workers have previously been. In this space, for example, they are free to organize themselves and to keep working hours that enable them to be with their families without any problem,” Julia Quiñonez, coordinator, Border Committee of Workers (CFO).
Shorter days and more opportunities for education
Consuelo, a young mother, works in the main workshop, located in the CFO offices. However, unlike at her previous jobs, this time the work is more flexible and at a relaxed pace, enabling her to go home and spend time with her children. “At the traditional maquilas, you have to stand up because either the machines are very tall, or you have to move around. Supposedly, they accommodate things around the machines, but they forget about the workers, because long hours standing turn into health problems,” she explained.
Consuelo, who along with her colleagues, makes uniforms, T-shirts and even First Communion dresses, is one of the members who has contributed most to this effort. “One of the things I like most about this maquila is that in addition to the work, we have workshops. For example, we had one not long ago about health-related risks, and they explained in great detail how to identify what is hurting us and the keys for understanding some health emergencies,” she said.
Workers well-being as a new business model
Natalia, meanwhile, is a fashion designer and, although she does not work physically in the CFO workshop, she has a small room at home where she makes and cuts patterns for some of the uniforms. “I’ve been with CFO for three years and I’ve seen it grow thanks to our effort. We have definitely been able to make many improvements, but we still need a lot of material, an embroidery machine for starters. Many of our clients are schools, and we need that machine to be able to deliver what they’re looking for,” she says.
Little by little, these workshops have attracted more and better clients, in addition to working conditions that are ideal for the people who take part in them. This way, Dignidad y Justicia workers are breaking the paradigm by showing that a business model that puts the well-being of the workers first is possible.