Friday, January 7, 2011
Free Trade Agreements
By Jess McCabe
It’s not even time for dinner and my brain is about to explode trying to process everything I’ve heard and seen so far. This morning, we discussed Free Trade Agreements such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and CAFTA (Caribbean American Free Trade Agreement) and what those agreements like those mean to the people who are affected by it. In this case, Nicaraguans are inevitably affected by CAFTA of which they are a part.
We visited a factory, called Muebletex, that is located in one of the Free Trade Zones. We met with Robert, one of the administrators of the factory who showed us the ins and outs of the operation. It was really interesting to see how an American-owned corporation operates in Nicaragua. This factory that we visited is considered one of the “better” factories to work for in the country in that the workers have more rights, better wages, and work in decent conditions. To be honest, I was expecting to have a completely different experience.
Robert walked us through the factory, showing us the different operations and different fabrics that the men and women work with. About 300 workers are currently employed at the factory. They work 48 hours a week, Monday thru Friday, most of them making minimum wage. On average, each worker takes home about 3,920 cordobas, or $148 per month. Employees who produce more are paid more for their work and can sometimes make 3 or 4 times the minimum wage. But those who can’t produce the work as quickly? Well, they’re still making only $148 per month. That still seems like unfair wages to me, especially when those who are in charge of the factory are wealthy Americans who profit off of cheap Nicaraguan labor.
After visiting Muebletex, we visited a female-run fair trade sewing cooperative that was formed by displaced women after Hurricane Mitch. This factory produces all types of clothing and is completely owned and operated by women. It was such a different experience because at Nueva Vida, no one is working for anyone else’s profit. They receive fair wages for the work that they do and have formed their own family through the struggles that they have endured. What was so amazing to me was that these people were women. They were told that they could never run their own factory and employ themselves but they did everything they could to achieve their goal. Those that doubted their abilities later came asking for jobs. What’s even more amazing is that they gave it to them.
Today has been probably the most tiring day we’ve had so far. I’m learning so much from every lecture we have and every person we meet. I really enjoyed meeting the women of Nueva Vida and seeing how powerful they are. It was a completely inspiring moment for me and I’m so grateful we got the chance to support their business. I’m also happy that we’re missing the snow that’s happening back home. I’d take sunny and 70-80 degrees any day.