Provocative Editorial Appears in Border/Line Health & Safety

Garrett Brown, network coordinator of the Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network, is sure to raise a few eyebrows, if not hackles, with an editorial in the group's April 11, 2003 newsletter, Border/Line Health & Safety.

In the newsletter, Brown discusses what he perceives to be the impact of the invasion of Iraq on global workplace health and safety. The newsletter is distributed to a volunteer network of over 400 occupational health and safety professionals who have placed their names on a resource list to provide information, technical assistance and on-site instruction regarding workplace hazards in the 3,000 "maquiladora" (foreign-owned assembly) plants along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as others interested in occupational safety and health issues in that region.

In an e-mail that included the editorial, Brown wrote, "Some of your readers ... may find the article to be very provocative. That's part of the idea. At this point in our country's history, we need to have genuine, open discussion of the issues raised by the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and their impact on life in the U.S. and the world."

According to Brown, the war will have an adverse impact on occupational safety and health throughout the global economy. Calling the war "illegal under international law," Brown said, "Without respect for laws, both international and domestic, and without respect for truth and the simple facts of any matter, it will be difficult, if not impossible, [for the United States] to set health-protective laws and to effectively enforce [occupational safety and health] regulations."

If the U.S. government can pick and chose which laws it will obey and which international bodies it will ignore, asks Brown, "then why should China, Indonesia or Mexico enforce workplace H&S laws which 'discourage foreign investment' in the ruthless competition between poor countries for development?"

Brown contends, "We will never make any progress in reversing the present global 'race to the bottom' in workers' health and safety not to mention many other pressing social issues on our planet if we do not insist on facts and truth, insist on government and corporate responsibility, insist on democratic participation by those affected in the making of decisions, insist on the fair and equitable application of the law."

In the editorial, Brown suggests supporting the "International Right To Know" legislative proposal that a coalition of more than 200 environmental, labor social justice and human rights organizations around the world launched in January 2003. The "IRTK" proposal is based on U.S. laws requiring disclosure by corporations of key environmental impacts of their operations. The components of the proposed IRTK law include:

  • Environmental disclosures of toxic releases, air and water pollution and natural resource extraction;
  • Labor disclosures of workplace injuries and fatalities, management of hazardous materials and labor complaints against the employers; and
  • Human rights disclosures of contracts with military and police forces, impacts on indigenous communities and human rights complaints against companies.

For more information on the IRTK campaign and how to join it, go to www.irtk.org. For more information about the Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network, visit mhssn.igc.org.

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