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2015-02_dc

14 D+C Vol.42.2015:2 Christmas and New Year do not mean much to Matilde. The company she works for did not pay her the 13th monthly wage she is entitled to by law. Employers are under obligation to disburse the money by 15 December, but many do not do so. As hundreds of other garment workers in Guatemala, Matilde is used to seeing her rights violated year after year. The maquilas, as the major, export-oriented clothing factories are called, began to grow in Gua- temala in the 1980s. In line with the Washington Consensus and the structural-adjustment policies promoted by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank at the time, the government of Gua- temala was attracting international investors with tax breaks. The idea was to generate employment and foreign-exchange revenues. The maquilas have indeed created lots of jobs, but not good jobs. They are known for exploitation and violence. Labour laws are often broken. Most formally employed women in Guatemala work for maquilas. The government should act on their behalf, but it is only eager to woo international investors. Free enterprise Maquila workers make garments from textiles and other components that are imported to Guatemala. Most clothes they produce are exported, to Europe and the USA in particular. This export-oriented indus- try has become an important sector of Guatemala’s economy. Sales amounted to more than $ 1 billion from January to October last year – which is equiva- lent to about three percent of GNP. In Guatemala to- day, there are 139 garment factories, 39 spinning mills and other textile manufacturers as well as 240 companies that offer relevant services. The maquilas are regulated by the Law on the Promotion and Development of Exports. This law stipulates that, for the first 10 years, foreign inves- tors are exempted from paying income taxes, import taxes and duties as well value-added tax for ma- No way out To many young women in Guatemala, a job in a maquila – a garment or textiles factory – seems to promise an escape from poverty. The workers, however, must cope with abuse and very long hours. The wages are too low to really improve poor people’s situation. The government largely ignores their plight, but wants to introduce new tax exemptions for investors. By Mirna Lilian Ramírez Pérez Maquila workers waiting for their shift to begin. DanielDeClair/Reuters

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