In a recent graduate study, a student at the Intercultural and Cultural Diversity program of UNAM has come to some troubling conclusions in regards to child labor in Mexico, especially where it concerns the country’s maquiladoras, essentially textile sweatshops where employees work long hours at low pay.
According to Joaquin Cortez Diaz, whose report helped him graduating with honors in Social Work, there are approximately 2.5 million child workers in Mexico today. Of that number, 8.5 percent are concentrated in Colima, Guerrero and Puebla.
It was in Puebla where Cortez Diaz, for the purpose of his study, obtained a job at a maquiladora.
“Due to my complete lack of experience, they put me at the bottom, the same position as the kids,” reported Cortez Diaz. “It seems like it’d be easy, but everyday these kids process 20 bundles, each with 60 pairs of pants, working at the pace of the machines.”
During his short tenure in the maquiladora, Cortez Diaz reports witnessed deplorable working conditions, especially for the kids, who made up, according to his estimation, 10 to 15 percent of workers. He saw scant signs of safety measures being taken, and noticed that the children, aged 8-14, often suffered from the abusive behavior of both the factory’s owners and the adult workers.
During conversations with the under-age workers, who earn on average between 550 and 750 pesos for every 48 hours they work (60-80 cents USD an hour) Diaz was told that, due to long hours, many of them had begun using crystal meth, which they considered an upgrade from the paint thinner they had been huffing previously.
While his graduate study is behind him, Cortez Diaz says his experiences at the maquiladora have stayed with him. Not one to rest on his laurels, the newly garlanded alumnus says he plans to help form a strategy to bring an end to the practice of child labor in Puebla and elsewhere.