Monday, October 09, 2006

Maquilapolis: City of Factories

If ever there was a perfect "Globalisation and the Environment" topic it is the case of the Mexican maquiladora workers forced to live and work in extremely in very unpleasent conditions.

Such a way of life is depicted in a new documentary in the US. More information on the program and the background to the story can be found in a recent Gristmill post.

Here is a website for the film "Maquilapolis".

An classic example of multinationals moving abroad or setting up production plants to to take advantage of lower (or unenforced) environmental regulations - this is the sort of anecdotal evidence for pollution havens that makes the lack of empirical support found by many studies surprising.

Lourdes lives in a neighborhood in Tijuana that has not just ordinary sewage running down the middle of the street, but a toxic stew of chemicals and manufacturing agents from the factories on the mesa above their homes. In case there is any doubt about what is happening, the factory takes advantage of every rainfall, however slight, to send an extra torrent of chemical-laden waters down through the neighborhood. The results are predictable: an epidemic of health problems including persistent skin rashes, respiratory problems, allergies, and birth defects. Lourdes, as also documented by her video diary, can't just sit by. She helps organize a community group, the Chilpancingo Collective for Environmental Justice, to fight for an cleanup of a toxic waste dump left behind by a departing battery-recycling factory — a seemingly impossible goal in a country whose environmental protection agencies cry helplessness at every turn.


Biopolitical said...

I can see that Mexico has less control of pollution than the US. I can see that factories are taking advantage of that fact. I fail to see that less control of pollution is causing the migration of factories to Mexico and other developing countries.

The idea that multinationals are looking for the right combination of cheap labor and not-so-bad infrastructure looks reasonable to me. So I am not surprised by the lack of empirical support for the pollution-haven hypothesis.

Rob Elliott said...

Thanks for the comment. Your thoughts mirror our own was the motivation behind a couple of our papers that try to explain the lack of pollution haven evidence. As you point out, there are many aspects to FDI or the relocation of multinationals other than environmental regulation differences. One key aspect is the capital intensity of heavy polluters which by defintion makes them relatively imobile and hence the setting up of competing hypotheses, the pllution haven hypothesis and the capital-labour hypothesis.