Year: 2006; 2012
Length: 4:04; 2:58
Access: clip 1 on YouTube; clip 2 at the New York Times
Summary: These two clips examine the role of low wage work in the global economy. The first clip looks at maquiladoras (multinationally-owned factories operating in tax-free zones in low wage countries) from the documentary Maquilapolis (city of factories). It presents the stories of two female maquiladora workers. Carmen works the graveyard shift at a factory that produces television parts. She was attracted to the maquiladoras because it paid better wages than the rest of Mexico. However, she ultimately suffers from kidney damage and lead poisoning from her years of exposure to toxic chemicals and her employers that do not allow workers to drink water or go to the bathroom during their shift. In a global economy, corporations are attracted to places like Mexico because of their tax-free zones that offer tax breaks and cheap labor that is easily exploitable. Employers expect labor, which is mostly female, to have "agile hands and would be cheap and docile". Ultimately, Carmen's employer moved from Mexico to Indonesia to find cheaper labor and earn higher profits. The clip discusses female labor as a "cheap commodity" that is easily discarded if they become less productive or defend their labor rights. The second clip documents workers at a Chinese Foxconn factory that employs 120,000 workers with low pay and dangerous working conditions. The clips offer a good illustration of world-systems theory, and viewers can be encouraged to think about the role of maquiladoras in the global economy. How does value flow through the global economy? How is work, gender, and inequality linked to maquiladoras and the mobility of transnational corporations around the world? Do maquiladoras reproduce poverty or can they help nations rise in global value chains?
Submitted By: Paul Dean