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A maquila in Mexico

In Mexico, a maquiladora (Spanish pronunciation: [makilaˈðoɾa]) or maquila (IPA: [maˈkila])[1] is a manufacturing operation in a free trade zone (FTZ), where factories import material and equipment on a duty-free and tariff-free basis for assembly, processing, or manufacturing and then export the assembled, processed and/or manufactured products, sometimes back to the raw materials' country of origin.

The term maquiladora, in the Spanish language, refers to the practice of millers charging a maquila, or "miller's portion" for processing other people's grain.[2]


In 1964, the Bracero Program, which allowed Mexican agricultural workers to work legally in the U.S. on a seasonal basis, came to an end. Less than a year after the end of the Bracero Program, the Mexican Government launched the Border Industrialization Program (BIP) or the Maquiladora Program, to solve the problem of rising unemployment along the border.[3] The maquiladoras became attractive to the US firms due to availability of cheap labor, devaluations of peso and favorable changes in the US customs laws.[citation needed] In 1985, maquiladoras overtook tourism as the largest source of foreign exchange, and since 1996 they have been the second largest industry in Mexico behind the petroleum industry.[4]

Following the North American Free Trade Agreement (1994), the growth of maquila plants skyrocketed. During the five years before NAFTA, the maquila employment had grown at the rate of 47%; this figure increased to 86% in the next five years. The number of factories also increased dramatically. In the five years preceding NAFTA, 564 new plants opened; in the five years following, 1460 plants opened. However, the maquiladora growth is largely attributable to growth in US demand and not NAFTA itself.[5][6][7] In the 1970s, most maquiladoras were located around the Mexico–United States border. By 1994, these were spread in the interior parts of the country, although the majority of the plants were still near the border. Recent research indicates that the maquiladora industry has an impact on U.S. border city employment in service sectors.[8]

Although the maquiladora industry suffered due to the early 2000s recession, maquiladoras constituted 54% of the US-Mexico trade in 2004, and by 2005, the maquiladora exports accounted for half of Mexico's exports.[7] The industry had become an important source of FDI and foreign exchange for Mexico.[citation needed]

In the 2000s, the maquila industry faced competition due to rise of other countries with availability of cheap labor, including Malaysia, India, and Pakistan. The biggest threat came from China's Special Economic Areas.[7]

Growth and development[edit]

During the later half of the sixties, maquiladora industries rapidly expanded geographically and economically and by 1985, had become Mexico’s second largest source of income from exports, behind oil.[9] Since 1973, maquiladoras have also accounted for nearly half of Mexico’s export assembly.[9] Between 1995 and 2000, exports of assembled products in Mexico tripled, and the rate of the industry’s growth amounted to about one new factory per day.[10] By the late twentieth century, the industry accounted for 25 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product, and 17 percent of total Mexican employment.[11]

Since globalization and physical restructuring[citation needed] have contributed to the competition and advent of low-cost offshore assembly in places such as China, and countries in Central America, maquiladoras in Mexico have been on the decline since 2000: According to federal sources, approximately 529 maquiladoras shut down and investment in assembly plants decreased by 8.2 percent in 2002.[10] Despite the decline, over 3,000 maquiladoras still exist along the 2,000 mile-long United States–Mexico border, providing employment for approximately one million workers, and importing more than $51 billion in supplies into Mexico.[12] Research indicates that maquiladoras' post-NAFTA growth is connected to changes in Mexican wages relative to those in Asia and in the United States, and to fluctuations in U.S. industrial production.[13] As of 2006, maquiladoras still account for 45 percent of Mexico’s exports.[14] Maquiladoras, in general, are best represented among operations that are particularly assembly intensive.[citation needed]

Working conditions[edit]

One of the main goals of the Border Industrialization Program was to attract foreign investment. To do that, Mexican labor is kept cheap and competitive with other major export countries to keep the United States firms operating within the Mexican assembly plants. Mexican women work for approximately one-sixth of the U.S. hourly rate.[15]

Young women are often preferred over older women, as younger women are capable of working longer hours. Women are often subjected to unsafe and unsanitary working conditions.[16] Poverty is a key factor that motivates women, in particular, to work in maquiladoras. The minimum wage set by the Mexican government is barely enough to help sustain a family. The minimum wage "buys only about a quarter of the basic necessities that are essential for a typical worker’s family".[17]

Gender composition of workforce[edit]

Mexico possesses a strong system of labor laws, yet enforcement of these laws within the maquiladora industry is often lax.⁠[18](p1) While most people who were employed under the original Bracero Program were men, the majority of maquiladora employees are young women.[18](p3) Women are preferred to men, because women typically work more . Some maquiladora operators have admitted a preference for women also because women often display a greater level of patience and higher dexterity than men in performing the repetitive work of an assembly plant. In recent years, however, there has been a shift toward hiring more male workers due to labor shortages and the emergence of heavier industries operating within maquiladoras.[citation needed]

Environmental effects[edit]

Both the United States and Mexican governments claim to be committed to environmental protection, yet environmental policies have not always been enforced.⁠[18](p42) Although the La Paz Agreement signed by Mexico and the United States in 1983 requires hazardous waste created by United States corporations to be transported back to the U.S. for disposal, most companies avoid paying disposal costs by dumping toxins and other waste into Mexico’s rivers or deserts. The United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that only 91 of the 600 maquiladoras located along the Texas-Mexico border have returned hazardous waste to the United States since 1987.[19] This is likely due to the fact that most Maquiladoras are factories which perform sewing and assembly of consumer products.

In Mexico, some maquiladoras lack proper waste management facilities and the ability to clean up disposal sites, which is why some of the hazardous waste is illegally disposed of.[19] Environmental hazards associated with some maquiladoras include polluted rivers and contaminated drinking water. According to the Southwest Consortium for Environmental Research and Policy (SCERP), all streams and rivers in the border region have been ecologically devastated as a consequence of the maquila industry.[20] However, most of this damage is likely caused by the lack of sewage treatment infrastructure. Furthermore, the United States Geological Survey, the state of California, and the Imperial County Health Department have all asserted the New River, which flows from Mexicali near the border to the Salton Sea in California to be "...the dirtiest river in America."[21]

The Border 2012 plan devised by the EPA has an extensive plan to help with environmental issues along the U.S./Mexico border.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Also referred to as a "twin plant", or "in-bond" industry.[citation needed]
  2. ^ Wilson, Patricia A. Exports and Local Development: Mexico's New Maquiladoras. p. 139.
  3. ^ Ferrante-Wallace, Joan (2006). Sociology: a global perspective. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-4950-0561-2. OCLC 61232264. 
  4. ^ Louie, Miriam C.Y. (2001). Sweatshop warriors: immigrant women workers take on the global factory. South End Press. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-89608-638-8. 
  5. ^ Larudee, Mehrene. "Causes of Growth and Decline in Mexico's Apparel Sector. International Review of Applied Economics, Vol 21, September 2007. pp539-559.
  6. ^ Truett, Lila and Truett, Dale. "NAFTA and the Maquiladoras: Boon or Bane." Contemporary Economic Policy, Vol 25, July 2007. pp374-386
  7. ^ a b c Vietor, Richard H.K The devaluation of the peso ( in 1994, which overnight reduced all Peso-denominated manufacturing costs including energy and labor, improving the profitability of the maquiladoras, explains the growth spurt more than the changes in duties that were the result of NAFTA. US tariffs were already low, and Mexican duties were already not charged to Maquiladoras.; Veytsman, Alexander (2 February 2007), American Outsourcing, p. 6, 9-705-037 
  8. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, The Impact of the Maquiladora Industry on U.S. Border Cities, 2011
  9. ^ a b Stoddard, Ellwyn R. Maquila: Assembly Plants in Northern Alaska. p. 2.
  10. ^ a b Shorris, Earl. The Life and Times of Mexico. p. 531
  11. ^ Hausman, Angela and Diana L Haytko. Cross-border Supply Chain Relationships: Interpretive Research of Maquiladora Realized Strategies. p. 25.
  12. ^ Villalobos, J Rene, et al. Inbound for Mexico. p. 38.
  13. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Did NAFTA Really Cause Mexico's High Maquiladora Growth?, July 2001
  14. ^ Gruben, William C. and Sherry L. Kiser. The Border Economy: NAFTA and Maquiladoras: Is the Growth Connected?
  15. ^ The Human Race: Escaping From History. Employee turnover is also relatively high, p. 52.
  16. ^ Aguilar, Delia D., Lacsamana, Anne E. (2004). Women and Globalization. New York: Humanity Books. p. 130. ISBN 1591021626. 
  17. ^ Kopinak, Kathryn (1995). "Gender as a Vehicle for the Subordination of Women Maquiladora Workers in Mexico". Latin American Perspectives 22: 36. doi:10.1177/0094582x9502200103. 
  18. ^ a b c Kamel, Rachel; Hoffman, Anya (1999). The maquiladora reader : cross-border organizing since NAFTA. Philadelphia, PA: American Friends Service Committee. ISBN 978-0-9100-8235-8. OCLC 647067991. Archived from the original on 2015-04-05. Retrieved 2015-04-05. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002. 
  19. ^ a b Kelly, Mary E. Free Trade: The Politics of Toxic Waste. p. 48
  20. ^ CorpWatch. Maquiladoras at a Glance.
  21. ^ Sklair, Leslie. Assembling For Development: The Maquila Industry in Mexico and the United States. p. 94.
  22. ^ US-Mexico Border 2012 Program

Further reading[edit]


Journal articles[edit]

  • Brown, Garrett D. "Protecting Workers’ Health and Safety in the Globalizing Economy through International Trade Treaties". International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. Apr-Jun 2005.
  • Choi, Dae Won and Martin Kenney. "The Globalization of Korean Industry: Korean Maquiladoras in Mexico." (Archive) Frontera Norte, January–July 1997. Volume 5, No. 7. p. 5-22. Article in English, abstract available in Spanish.
  • Clapp, Jennifer. Piles of Poisons: Despite NAFTA’s Green Promises, Hazardous Waste Problems are Deepening in Mexico. Alternatives Journal, Vol. 28, Iss. 2. Waterloo: Spring 2002.
  • Hampton, Elaine. Globalization Legacy: A View of U.S. Factory Involvement in Mexican Education. Multicultural Education. Summer 2004.
  • Hausman, Angela and Diana L. Haytko. Cross-Border Supply Chain Relationships: Interpretive Research of Maquiladora Realized Strategies. The Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, Vol 18, Iss. 6/7. Santa Barbara: 2003
  • Moffatt, Allison. Murder, Mystery and Mistreatment in Mexican Maquiladoras. Women & Environments International Magazines 66 (2006): 19.
  • Villalobos, J. Rene, et al., Inbound for Mexico. Industrial Engineer. Norcross: April 2004. Vol. 36, Iss. 4.

Government/NGO reports[edit]

  • Gruben, William C. and Sherry L. Kiser. The Border Economy: NAFTA and Maquiladoras: Is the Growth Connected? Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. June 2001.
  • Human Rights Watch. No Guarantees: Sex Discrimination in Mexico’s Maquiladora Sector. The Maquiladora Reader. Philadelphia: Mexico-U.S. Border Program, 1999.



  • Campbell, Monica. Maquiladoras: Rethinking NAFTA. PBS, 2002.
  • The Human Race: Escaping From History. dir. Josh Freed. Green Lion Productions Inc., videocassette, 1994.
  • Maquilapolis Documentary

External links[edit]