A major human rights group charged Saturday that discrimination against women is routine in Mexican border assembly plants, many of which are owned by U.S. corporations.
The Women’s Rights Project of New York-based Human Rights Watch said that companies often screen out pregnant women and sometimes fire or discriminate against those who become pregnant.
“It is all women who apply to the sector who are discriminated against because they are subjected to a different hiring practice than men,” LaShawn R. Jefferson, a researcher on the project, said in a telephone interview.
The report said the Mexican government has failed to protect women from labor law violations and urged such steps.
Women predominate among the more than 500,000 employees of the plants, known as maquiladoras, that operate under tax concessions. They assemble raw materials from the United States for shipment back north as finished goods.
The government sees the industry, which generates some $29 billion a year in earnings, as a way to create jobs and promote development. The report said that makes the government unwilling to closely regulate the plants.
Investigators for the human rights organization interviewed workers from more than 40 plants in five cities along the border.
They cited reports of women refused work or fired due to pregnancy, queried by bosses about their sex lives, shifted to harder tasks to encourage them to quit and even, in one 1989 incident, suffering a miscarriage when refused permission to leave a work shift.
“Once hired, if a woman worker in a maquiladora becomes pregnant, our interviews indicate that her ability to retain her job may depend very much on the attitude of the supervisor,” the report said.
“We documented cases where pregnant women were forced to resign and where they were harassed and mistreated for becoming pregnant.”
The Mexican Labor Department said in a brief written response that employers are forbidden to fire or mistreat pregnant women, and it said discrimination against women in hiring is illegal.
But it did not embrace Human Rights Watch’s claim that screening out pregnant job-seekers is illegal, and said it had no recorded cases of women being denied a job because of pregnancy.
Human Rights Watch argued that some international organizations have found pregnancy screening to be sex discrimination banned by international agreements, since it targets only women.
One company argued that some women sought jobs after learning they were pregnant in order to take advantage of companyfunded maternity benefits.