A few years ago I went on a mission trip to Juárez, the industrial Mexican city right across the border from El Paso, Texas. There I met Julia (see picture below), a young girl with the most beautifully curious expression on her face. Tonight her face was brought back to my memory as I saw the film Bordertown, based on the real story of the countless raped and murdered women of Juárez. Though conservative numbers affairm the deaths of 600 women, some estimate that up to 5000 women have been brutally killed, mutilated, tortured, or raped. The majority of the victims are workers in the maquiladoras, the massive factories that produce cheap electronics with the help of minimally paid Mexican labourers. Neither the factories, nor the companies buying their products have taken responsibility for the safety of their workers in this lawless town. Click on the picture of the movie to see a trailer, or click HERE to read more about the female homocides in Juárez.
Recalling the face of Julia and other memories from Juárez, I remembered that one of the momements that made the biggest impression on me during that trip was a visit with a catholic priest and a nun who had been living and working together in Latin America all of their lives. Reflecting the horrifying truths portrayed in the film, they told us about the frequent kidnapping, raping, and murdering of women, sometimes even during bright daylight. The nun told us that not long ago, she had been walking down the street in the afternoon, when a young girl came up from behind her, grabbed her arm, and said: "Walk with me, I'm being followed". In their neighborhood there was frequent instances of violence, and though they didn't emphasize it themselves it was clear that they were and had been putting their lives at risk protecting those most vulnerable.
Take a look at Julia's face again. She must be around 15 years old right now. Where is she? Maybe she too is working long hours for little pay in one the maquiladoras supplying Americans with cheap electronics. Maybe she too is putting her life at risk as she returns home late at night without protection. I pray she will not be another one of the women whose disappearance or death will silently be swept under the rug.
As long as we consumers care more about the bottom line than the conditions of the workers who have produced the products we buy, the owners of the maquliadoras will continue to neglect the safety of their workers. We have the power to change that.
Of course, the factories alone are not to blame for this violence. This article from June 2008 highlights the connections between the warlords of the cocain industry and the ongoing merciless violence in Juárez. Yet, by placing international pressure on the factories neglecting to provide for the safety of their workers, the local government, the factories and those who demand their products, as well as the perpetrators will be forced to confront this brutal reality.
Though there are many ways to confront this issue, one of the first steps can be using our consumer power to choose to be part of the solution. One suggestion is taking a few minutes to look at the Ethical Consumer website, a UK based organization with lots of great guidance for those of us on the path to becoming more informed consumers.
From there, the rest is up to you. Think critically. Shop wisely.