The lives of Mexico’s maquiladora workers are being put at risk by lax COVID-19 rules and the demands of international trade | LSE Latin America and Caribbean – LSE Latin America and Caribbean

President López Obrador’s plan to reactivate the economy despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis leaves maquiladora workers facing an awful dilemma: isolate at home without a peso in their pockets or show up at work and risk losing their lives. The vast majority are forced to risk death, writes María Encarnación López (London Metropolitan University).

COVID-19 is rapidly advancing in Mexico. Yet, on 13 May, close to the peak of the pandemic, the government announced a plan to ease restrictions and return to a “new normal“.

The plan allows for the resumption of certain non-essential business activities, including within the special assembly plants along the US-Mexico border that are known as maquiladoras. Ultimately, President López Obrador has left it up to each administration, state, or municipality to implement his plan or to ignore it. And more broadly, he continues to rely on a sense of social responsibility to ensure compliance with the government’s “healthy distance” programme, which aims to promote social distancing, hygiene standards, and voluntary isolation.

A public health worker sprays disinfectant in Mexico City during the COVID-19 outbreak
Mexico’s COVID-19 measures have been amongst the most relaxed in Latin America (Eneas de TroyaCC BY 2.0)

Maquiladoras in Ciudad Juárez and beyond

The maquiladoras represent a legal paradise for the American and European assembly factories that settled at the US–Mexican border following the signing of the North American Free