Guatemala’s geographic location near the US and low labor costs make it an advantageous site for maquiladoras, the apparel assembly factories sometimes called “sweatshops” because of their notoriously harsh working conditions. In recent years, the apparel industry has grown in Guatemala; its advocates insist that it creates jobs, and jobs that are better-paid than the backbreaking agricultural work on the country’s plantations. Its detractors warn that labor rights violations are endemic in the maquilas: obligatory overtime, minimal bathroom breaks, grueling work conditions and forced pregnancy tests are common across the industry. Workers who organize in defense of their rights are often fired in retaliation.
 
In the course of our studies in Guatemala, we meet with women leaders from SITRACIMA and SITRACHOI, the only two existing unions in the entire maquiladora industry, to hear about the challenges they face and the gains they’ve made thus far.
 
Labor rights in the apparel industry
Students with the union leaders and their banner
Close-up of a pay stub. For 13 days of work, including overtime and bonus pay, the worker took home about USD $128.
The workers explain the salary and deductions on their pay stubs.
At left, and above: meeting with the union leaders outside the factory gates.