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Protecting workers' rights to freedom of association & collective bargaining in Mexico

Issues Freedom of Association & Collective Bargaining

Protection contracts – the practice of official unions or corrupt lawyers negotiating a union contract without the knowledge of workers – is a common practice endorsed by some companies operating in Mexico in order to limit workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. These contracts tend to exist only on paper, and workers are typically not informed of the agreement and are unaware of their collective bargaining rights. Those organizing to improve their pay and working conditions often find themselves faced with intimidation and repression at the hands of the same unions who are supposed to be protecting them. According to one union leader, 90% of the collective bargaining agreements in Mexico are “protection contracts.”

Since 2008, FLA has conducted 27 independent external monitoring and verification visits in Mexico. Eleven (41%) of the audits cited Freedom of Association (FOA) noncompliances; Nine of the cases where noncompliance was cited (82%) related to protection contracts and exclusion clauses. Findings have included:

  • Hiring contingent on workers’ affiliating with the union holding the CBA title;
  • Exclusion clause in the CBA allowing the factory to fire any worker that disaffiliates or is expelled by the union;
  • A CBA is in place but there is no union representative at the facility;
  • Workers are not aware that they are covered under a CBA, who their union representative is, and that union dues are not deducted or collected from their earnings.

Though the use of protection contracts has always been prohibited under the FLA Code of Conduct, recent enhancements to the Code add specificity and clarity to FOA standards that FLA member companies are expected to monitor against. The importance of this issue and the need for companies to take steps to prevent these types of contracts was communicated in a memo to FLA members this month.

Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN), an NGO participating in FLA, has been working with local and international stakeholders around this issue and has developed a Freedom of Association in Mexico Tool Kit to help brands and auditors better identify the issue related to protection contracts and exclusion clauses, thereby allowing for appropriate remediation action to occur. Download MSN’s Tool Kit.  

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