Through the NAALC, the regional trading partners seek to improve working conditions and living standards, and to protect, enhance and enforce basic workers’ rights. To accomplish these goals the NAALC establishes a set of Objectives, Obligations and Labor Principles that all Parties are committed to promote; it also creates mechanisms for cooperative activities and intergovernmental consultations, as well as for independent evaluations and dispute settlement related to the enforcement of each nation’s labor laws.

The North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation

The North American Free Trade Agreement, which encompasses the Mexican, Canadian and American economies, came into effect in 1994. The final major point of the treaty’s preamble is the agreement to “PROTECT, enhance and enforce basic workers’ rights.”[i] Mexico, largely as a result of NAFTA, has come to depend on U.S. exports, with 85% of Mexican foreign sales/purchases made in the U.S. as of 2004.[ii] Although Canadian as well as European companies utilise the soft policies in maquiladoras, the United States exists as a powerful presence in the Mexican economy, and the pressures from this northern neighbour are serious concerns in Mexican policy making. The Mexican government stated that the “main objective of the agreement was to achieve greater economic growth, employment, and, particularly, improved certainty…in the economic relationship with its main trade partner, the U.S.”[iii] Yet, as Gutiérrez-Haces notes, the broad scope of the agreement blinded the Mexicans to “the ‘small print’ of the agreement.”[iv] The dependent relationship that has resulted from this agreement renders any scruples that are ‘bad for business’ with American companies deeply problematic for Mexico’s economic welfare.


A sister agreement to NAFTA, signed before it in 1993, is the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC). It was the first international agreement regarding labour that was signed in conjunction with an international trade agreement. The agreements made in this document are interesting in light of the lack of protection for labour rights documented in maquiladora districts. Many of the ways that NAFTA and NAALC fail to protect workers are evidenced in the realities of the shopfloor.

What can be extracted from this economic contextualization is the reality that maquiladoras are a space where global capitalism is the impetus for the industrialization of this region.  More than this, however, the maquiladora shopfloor space comes up against global capitalism and transforms into a space where cheap, temporary labour meets a sexualized form of femininity through the female maquiladora workers.


[i] NAFTA, 1994, emphasis in original.

[ii] Alejandro Alvarez, “Mexico: Relocating the State within a New Global Regime,” Governing Under Stress, eds. Cohen, Marjorie Griffin, and Stephen Clarkson (London: Zed Books, 2004) 96.

[iii] Teresa Gutiérrez-Haces, “The Rise and Fall of an ‘Organized Fantasy’: The Negotiation of Status as Periphery and Semi-periphery by Mexico and Latin America,” Governing Under Stress, eds. Cohen, Marjorie Griffin, and Stephen Clarkson (London: Zed Books, 2004) 80.

[iv] Gutiérrez-Haces 81.