Women's Rights

Gender-based discrimination is an endemic problem in maquila factories throughout Central America and in garment export factories around the world. Women workers face discrimination in hiring, promotions, and dismissals; sexual harassment and other forms of violence in the workplace; and lack of respect for their rights to health care, maternity and child care benefits.

MSN collaborates with women’s and trade union organizations in Central America to achieve support for a series of demands outlined in their Women’s Labour Rights Agenda for the Central American Maquila Industry. MSN is engaging with international apparel brands and manufacturers through the Americas Group [see Corporate Accountability] on the steps they should take to address four priority issues in the Agenda – lack of legally-mandated child care benefits, health and safety issues facing women workers, sexual harassment and other forms of violence in the workplace, and failure to provide social security benefits and severance pay.

Right to Child Care

Most women workers have a double day – working for wages in the formal economy and working at home caring for their children, as well as other family members. The value to society and the economy of their unpaid labour in the home -- raising the next generation of workers -- is generally unrecognized.

The fact that childcare is a social responsibility, and not just an individual one, is recognized in international Conventions of the United Nations (UN) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the shared responsibility of governments and employers to provide childcare services for working women is spelled out in national legislation of many countries, including those in Central America. However, such legislation is seldom enforced or complied with.

MSN is collaborating with Central American women’s and trade union organizations to ensure that employers and governments live up to their responsibilities to provide quality childcare services for women workers. Together we are engaging with international apparel brands, industry associations and governments to find childcare solutions that best meet the needs of women maquila workers.

For reference, see an excellent ILO publication:

Health and Safety

Women and men working in Central America’s maquilas face a number of health and safety hazards, including production practices, such as high production targets and long work shifts, that shifts that can result in muscular-skeletal injuries. Women who suffer debilitating injures causes by these practices are often unable to continue working in the maquilas and are forced back into the informal economy.

Workplace Violence Against Women

Sexual harassment by supervisors and other management personnel, as well as security guards, is an all-too-common experience faced by women maquila workers. In addition, both female and male workers often experience other forms of violence at the workplace, including verbal and physical abuse, as well as threats of abuse, by supervisors to coerce workers to meet production quotas. Workers attempting to organize unions have also faced violence and threats of violence. Lack of adequate transportation and/or lighting and other security measures outside the workplace expose women to possible violence.

Failure to Provide Social Security and Severance Benefits

Employers in the maquila sector in Central America often fail to register workers for social security, fail to keep up to date with their social security contributions, and/or fail to provide workers their full legally-required severance pay in the event of a factory closure. As a result, workers and their dependents are denied their legally-mandated health care and maternity benefits and are left without income or health care services when their factory closes.

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