Worker fights for rights

The injustices workers in Mexico suffer at the hands of large corporations are horrible, but they do not always go unnoticed, a guest speaker said Thursday.

Carmen Duran, a Mexican worker who is the focus of the documentary Maquilapolis: City of Factories, sued electronics company Sanyo and received severance pay from the company for herself and coworkers. Duran spoke in the Ezekiel W. Cullen Building about the life of workers in Tijuana, Mexico.

Duran said she took action after Sanyo’s inconsistent policies forced her and others out of work.

"They kept changing our schedule, and eventually closed the factory," Duran said. "By changing our schedule it forced us to quit. But we formed a committee even though we didn’t have a union, and our committee forced Sanyo to pay the rightful payment by law, as well as severance," said Duran, who received $2,500 in severance from Sanyo.

Before Duran’s speech, which was spoken in Spanish and translated to English, the documentary Maquilapolis was shown to the audience. The film exposed the living conditions of poor workers in Mexico.

Some of the workers in the film lived a hundred meters away from the emission of factory pollution.

The workers eventually formed the Chilpancingo Collective for Environmental Justice and sent a letter to Mexico’s then-President Vicente Fox about their situation. The workers said they felt their government failed them.

Duran said Americans could help by promoting the documentary or donating to groups such as the Chilpancingo Collective at

When finance junior Konnie Lagou asked if Mexico was better off with companies such as Sanyo, Duran said the employment was helpful, but also unfair.

"It’s good to have a job, but that doesn’t excuse the government from not securing the workers’ rights," Duran said. "But if we teach the workers their rights, we can achieve fairness."

Timothy O’Brien, founder of UH Students Against Sweatshops, said his organization was trying to make UH apparel "sweat-free" because workers’ rights are violated in countries other than Mexico.

"In Adidas factories in Bangladesh that make UH apparel, there have been a slew of workers’ rights violations, such as sexual harassment, blocking all the doors and insufficient salary," O’Brien said.

Duran said she reached her goal and others can experience the same success through persistence.

"I visualized what I wanted and kept my eye on the prize," Duran said. "My presence here tonight is evidence of that."

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