Carlos García and Alfred Stoll
The Textile and Clothing Industry in Mexico

Mexico's textile and clothing industry was - like all the other industrial sectors - protected for decades against world market competition by high tariff barriers in the framework of a protectionist economic policy (import substitution).

The accession to GATT in 1986 initiated an opening to foreign trade which will be speeded up vigorously by the present government under President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Negotiations for a free trade area between the USA, Canada and Mexico were completed in August 1992. A free trade area has already been signed with Chile. Additional agreements with other Central and Latin American states are planned.

After the opening to foreign trade, Mexican industry, due to long-standing protection against world market competition, was in comparison with other industrialised countries technologically behind the times: at low productivity, goods of inferior quality were produced at comparatively high production costs. On the other hand, high quality and reasonably priced products mainly from the USA and Asia were pressing onto the national market. This led to a reduction of the textile and clothing sector's share of the whole manufacturing industry: from 10.8 per cent in 1980 to 8 per cent (projected for 1992) (see Graph 1)

Graph 1: Share of the textile and clothing industry in the net output of the manufacturing industry.

(not included)

(e) estimated Source: Bancomer

On the other hand, the sector showed an increasing foreign trade deficit (see Graph 2).

Graph 2: Foreign trade of the textile and clothing sector (in U.S. dollar millions)

(not included)

(e) estimated Source: Bancomer

The number of firms in the textile sector amounted in 1990 to about 2,200, 86 per cent of which were small firms with a maximum of 49 workers. At present about 170,000 workers are employed in this sector, 10 to 15 per cent of whom are women. This proportion corresponds to 5 per cent of those employed in the manufacturing industry. Due to the ever increasing number of mergers and the vertical integration of production processes, a fall in both the number of firms and the number of workers is expected over the next few years. The production plants are, in the main, completely out-of-date; only a few firms possess modern plants.

The contribution of the textile and clothing industry to gross domestic product (GDP) amounts to approximately 2.5 per cent. Both sectors employ about 27 per cent of the labour force. In 1990, at least 290 contract processing firms (maquiladoras) with 42,000 employees were registered. They work almost exclusively in the ready-to-wear field and account for about 6 per cent of GDP.

Due to the signature of the free trade agreement with the USA and Canada about 3,800 companies and 100,000 jobs are threatened particularly in small and medium-sized firms. The trade unions fear that the necessary increase in productivity and competitiveness will occur mainly at the cost of female and male workers and that the pressure will increase. However, it is recognised that the productivity of the sector must be increased through the modernisation of machinery. It is expected that the conclusion of the free trade agreement will promote domestic and foreign investment. The ministry of trade has worked out a specific programme for the promotion of the textile and clothing sector in cooperation with representatives of the employers.

In the textile sector in particular, labour relations are not regulated by negotiated in-house collective agreements (contratos colectivos) at the plant level between management and trade unions, but instead by collective agreements at the branch level between employers and branch trade unions (contratos ley). Collective agreements at the branch level become legally binding through their publication in the legal gazette. The employers' side criticises that as a result of global agreements, the flexibility of labour relations is hindered by the collective agreements at the branch level.

In contrast to the textile sector, collective agreements in the clothing sector are settled at plant level between employers and in-house unions. In the majority of firms in the textile sector, trade unions are represented

which are, in turn, affiliated at the national level to a branch trade union. In the clothing industry on the other hand,absolutely no trade union is represented in most firms due to the smallness of the companies. Women workers in particular have no trade union protection in the informal sector. Obligatory membership by all employees is usual in almost all companies in which a recognised trade union exists.

In the textile industry, in which mainly male workers are employed, the level of wages and social benefits corresponds, as a result of collective agreements at branch level, to about the average in the manufacturing industry and lies above the legally-required minimum norms. In the clothing industry, in which mainly women are employed, wages and social benefits are up to 60 per cent below the level in other branches of the manufacturing industry. The average hourly wage in the clothing industry stood in 1991 at the equivalent of less than one German Mark.

In nearly all small and very small firms, the legally-required minimum standards are far from met and inhumane working conditions often prevail. Serious problems in respect of working conditions are: bad ventilation, dust-laden air, high noise levels, high temperatures, bad lighting, unsatisfactory sanitary facilities, inferior tools, lacking or minimal safety precautions etc. In addition, women workers are often subjected to sexual molestation and physical violence.


- Bundesstelle für Außenhandelsinformationen

Branchenbild: Mexiko: Bekleidung,März 1992, Köln

Branchenbild: Mexiko: Textilien, März 1992, Köln

- Bancomer, Panorama economico,1er Bimestre, 1992, Mexiko

- Nacional Financiera, El Mercado de Valores, Nr. 4, 15.2.92, Mexiko

- El Financiero, 13.5.1992, Mexiko

- La Jornada, 24.5.1992, Mexiko

The "19th September" workers' union in Mexico - a union in the garment contract processing industry

The earthquake opened my eyes

My voice found an answer

My arms reached out to form a chain

In Mexico City, the centre of the national garment industry, the seamstresses employed in so-called "maquiladora" (contract processing industry) initiated the foundation of the workers' union "19th September" in 1985. The women had decided to unite due to the fact that after the earthquake of 19th September 1985, many enterprises remained closed, and their women workers waited for them to reopen in vain. As a result, more than 3,000 women lost their jobs. The owners did not reconstruct the buildings which had been destroyed by the earthquake, but removed the production to other places. After one year, many of the women still had not found another job, nor had they received the compensation they had demanded.

For one year, the women workers fought for their organisation to be recognized as a workers' union. The official trade union movement exhausted all legal possibilities in order to prevent them from doing this. The social struggle of the seamstresses reflects the history of revolt of women workers against the state-controlled trade unions. The official unions never took the interests of women workers into consideration, nor did they give them support in their struggle against exploitation and oppression.

Working conditions for women employees in the contract processing industry far from comply with standard labour law and social law regulations, and their wages are below the legal standard wage. The demands of the "19th September" seamstresses union range from implementation of the rights formulated and social fringe benefits foreseen in the Mexican labour law, to the cancellation of Mexico's foreign debt.

The way in which we are integrated into our working environment is not only determined by our requirements and interests but also by the capitalistic system which regulates the economic development of the country.

The international division of labour has shown world wide disparities between various countries. As a result there are rich and powerful countries such as the United States of America and other poorer countries such as Mexico.

The economic success of the rich countries is based on sales of machinery, technology, arms and credits to poor countries. The poor and dependent countries are burdened by unequal relations.

The tendency to change Mexico into a maquiladora-country is one example of unequal relations. This development has a negative impact on women, because demand for female workers who are employed according to maquila conditions is increasing. The salary is low, contracts do not exist, labour legislation is disregarded and the working conditions are unworthy of a human being.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-bibliothek

Previous Page TOC Next Page