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Worker Abuses Found at Finnish-Owned Maquiladora in Mexico

Managers at a Finnish-owned maquiladora located in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, producing wire harnesses for the North American auto industry, have obstructed workers’ right to freely join a union and sexually harassed female employees, according to a report released today by Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent organization that monitors labor rights abuses around the world.

On the basis of “overwhelming evidence,” the WRC found that managers at Arneses y Accesorios de México, which employs some 5,500 unionizable workers in six plants and is owned by Finnish multinational corporation PKC Group, engaged in:

Serious and clear-cut violations of international labor standards as embodied in the conventions of the International Labor Organization, as well as the codes of conduct of several of PKC’s customer firms.

PKC’s North American customers include Daimler Trucks North America, Navistar, PACCAR, Continental, Ford, General Motors and Harley-Davidson.

Aside from findings in relation to international labor standard violations, the 19-page report lists a series of recommended actions for PKC to take “without restore the rights of workers at Arneses y Accesorios.” These include:

  • The immediate reinstatement of the more than 100 workers “who were dismissed in retaliation for the exercise of their associational rights,” including 11 local union leaders;
  • The termination of the “protection contract” between the PKC and the company union Confederation of Mexican Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores de México, or CTM);
  • An end to “acts of interference with workers’ decisions regarding collective representation”; and
  • Establishment of an “effective disciplinary policy to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, providing for discipline of any supervisor or manager who engages in sexual harassment.”

Since the 1990s, workers at the Arneses y Accesorios plants, located about a three-hour drive west of San Antonio, have been organizing with the support of the Border Committee of Women Workers (Comité Fronterizo de Obreras, or CFO), an independent Mexican organization that promotes union democracy and workers’ rights. In 2007, they joined forces with the independent metal and mining workers’ union SNTMMSSRM (Mineros), which seeks to represent the maquiladora workers.

According to the report, in February 2012 the Mineros union filed a request before the Mexican Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board to be the maquiladora workers’ collective bargaining representative. Later that month, the labor board denied their request, stating that the Mineros—which traditionally represents workers in the mining, metal and metal-mechanical industries—could not represent workers in the auto parts industry. The next month, the Mineros appealed the board’s decision to an appellate court, which ruled in its favor.  

In October, the labor board, as dictated by Mexican law, finally set a date for an election so workers could choose their representative. The report reads:

During the lead-up to this election, in August, September and October 2012, Arneses y Accesorios management waged an aggressive campaign to prevent workers from voting in favor of the Mineros union.

Testifying to the WRC, a worker team leader at one Arneses y Accesorios plant recounts the plant manager conveying the following message to workers in captive-audience meetings held frequently before the election:

We [the workers] should be with the CTM because the company didn’t need the Mineros, and the CTM had been contracted for this reason. If you want to be out of work, then go with the Mineros. If you want a good work environment, you need to pick the CTM.

WRC’s findings are based on interviews with more than 40 current or former PKC workers conducted off-site, an analysis of documentary evidence and relevant international human and labor rights standards.

Despite WRC’s repeated attempts to obtain information from PKC’s North American management in the United States and its global management in Finland in connection to the report, the multinational “refused to either cooperate with the WRC’s investigation or respond in substance,” the report reads.

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