Mass Food Poisoning at Border Factories

For the second time in less than a month, a suspected case of mass food poisoning at a border assembly plant was reported in the media.  On Wednesday, July 10, between 50- 100 workers and administrative personnel at a Robert Bosch plant in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez reportedly came down with vomiting, headaches, nausea and other symptoms of food poisoning.

Company personnel, however, prevented ambulances and government inspectors from entering the industrial property. Instead, the company opted to treat employees on the premises, said Eloy Corral Banda, head of the Chihuahua State Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks. According to the official, testing of the suspected food was scheduled for July 11, with the results expected by next week.

Headquartered in Germany, Robert Bosch manufactures engines and engine parts.  There was no immediate comment from the firm on the reported food poisoning of its workers in Ciudad Juarez.

But Victor Fernandez Avila, father of a local Robert Bosch worker, questioned why it took hours for the company the allow workers to leave the property and did not permit outside help to enter the factory property.

In June, upwards of 250 workers at Ciudad Juarez’s Automotive Lighting plant were likewise afflicted with suspected food poisoning after consuming company-provided food. Dozens of workers were subsequently treated at five government-run hospitals for their illnesses, which included diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, high temperatures, and body weaknesses. Contaminated spaghetti was blamed for the food poisoning.  Automotive Lighting is owned by the Italy-based Magneti Marelli company.

Typically, workers at the foreign-owned plants known as maquiladoras in Ciudad Juarez and other Mexican cities are provided mass-prepared meals as part of their labor compensation package. Following the Automotive Lighting incident, a representative of the maquiladora industry said such food poisoning events were rare occurrences on the plant floor. Claudia Troitino de Gonzalez, president of the Ciudad Juarez Maquiladora Association, maintained that companies are “very responsible” with food and subject to health and sanitary inspections. “The number of incidents is very low,” Troitino argued.

Elizabeth Flores of Pastoral Obrera, the Roman Catholic Church’s labor ministry, told Frontera NorteSur that the recent food poisoning reports “should call attention” to the issue of food quality and sanitary standards in the maquiladoras.

“This indicates there is a backsliding in the working conditions of the workers,” Flores said. “This means there is not sufficient regulation.”

While Pastoral Obrera has not previously heard of many mass food poisoning cases in the maquiladoras,  worker complaints of “little and poor quality food” are common,  Flores said. “There has to be better vigilance and supervision, and a minimum (standard)  of what kind of food it is,” the labor advocate contended.

Flores added that a July 10 accident in which four maquiladora workers were injured when two company transport buses collided is likewise a warning sign of deteriorating  labor and safety conditions in the local manufacture-for-export industry. The four injured workers were sent to a Mexican Social Security Institute hospital for medical attention. For their part, the two bus drivers were detained by transit police pending investigation.

Additional sources:  Arrobajuarez, July 11, 2013., July 10, 2013. El Diario de Juarez, July 10 and 11, 2013. Articles by Lucio Soria, Eleazar Reza and editorial staff. El Diario de El Paso, June 22, 2013. Article by L. Sosa and M. Coronado. PM, June 21, 2013. Article by Javi Saucedo.

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