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Mexican Women in American Factories

Mexican Women in American Factories
Free Trade and Exploitation on the Border

Drawing on a rich data set of interviews with over 600 women maquila workers, this pathfinding book offers the first rigorous economic and sociological analysis of the impact of NAFTA and its implications for free trade around the world.

January 2012
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
253 pages | 6 x 9 | 20 b&w photos, 1 map, 9 figures, 15 tables |

Prior to the millennium, economists and policy makers argued that free trade between the United States and Mexico would benefit both Americans and Mexicans. They believed that NAFTA would be a “win-win” proposition that would offer U.S. companies new markets for their products and Mexicans the hope of living in a more developed country with the modern conveniences of wealthier nations. Blending rigorous economic and statistical analysis with concern for the people affected, Mexican Women in American Factories offers the first assessment of whether NAFTA has fulfilled these expectations by examining its socioeconomic impact on workers in a Mexican border town.

Carolyn Tuttle led a group that interviewed 620 women maquila workers in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The responses from this representative sample refute many of the hopeful predictions made by scholars before NAFTA and reveal instead that little has improved for maquila workers. The women’s stories make it plain that free trade has created more low-paying jobs in sweatshops where workers are exploited. Families of maquila workers live in one- or two-room houses with no running water, no drainage, and no heat. The multinational companies who operate the maquilas consistently break Mexican labor laws by requiring women to work more than nine hours a day, six days a week, without medical benefits, while the minimum wage they pay workers is insufficient to feed their families. These findings will make a crucial contribution to debates over free trade, CAFTA-DR, and the impact of globalization.

  • List of Figures, Tables, and Boxes
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. American Factories in Mexico
  • Chapter 2. The Border City of Nogales
  • Chapter 3. House to House: The Method of Analysis
  • Chapter 4. The History of the Maquila Industry
  • Chapter 5. Are the Maquilas Sweatshops?
  • Chapter 6. Liberation or Exploitation of Women Workers?
  • Chapter 7. Fancy Factories and Dilapidated Dwellings
  • Appendix 1. Maquilas in Nogales in 2004
  • Appendix 2. Survey of Maquila Workers
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Carolyn Tuttle is Betty Jane Schultz Hollender Professor of Economics at Lake Forest College, where she is currently Chair of the Latin American Studies Department and Director of the Border Studies Program. She also authored Hard at Work in Factories and Mines: The Economics of Child Labor in Great Britain.


“This meticulous study is an indictment not only of outsourcing and maquiladoras as sweatshops, but of the entire premise of free trade as a win-win proposition for all concerned. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduate through research collections.”

“This book is a very significant contribution to the field, which fills a gap in the literature. It brings a major new set of data to the table—the interviews of over 600 women who work in the maquiladoras in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. These are clearly rich data, and Tuttle mines them with a combination of scholarly expertise and compassion for the women behind them. The reader comes away with a great deal of information about the ‘typical’ woman worker in Nogales, the conditions in which she lives and works, and how she compares to maquila women in previous years and in other cities.”
Lynda K. Barrow, Associate Professor of Political Science, Coe College