“A World without Sweatshops”
COLUMN | HONOR ROLL
BY BROOKE MORRIS
MHSSN provided training to union workers in Santa Domingo,
Dominican Republic, June 2010.
Honor Roll highlights selected winners of AIHA® awards. This month we feature Maquiladora
Health & Safety Support Network, winner of the 2011 Social Responsibility Award.
AIHA established the Social Responsibility Award in 2009.
Presented to an individual, entity, group or organization at
AIHce, the Social Responsibility Award honors those who work
to develop and support practical solutions to social responsibility
issues associated with industrial hygiene or environmental
health and safety matters.
International Network to Protect Workers
Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network (MHSSN) is the
first organization to be honored with the Social Responsibility
Award. Founded in 1993 by members of AIHA and the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Occupational Health
and Safety Section in response to the North American Free
Trade Agreement (NAFTA), MHSSN provides information, technical assistance and on-site instruction regarding workplace
hazards in the 3,000 “maquiladora,” or foreign-based assembly
plants, along the U.S.–Mexico border. MHSSN has also carried
out projects in Indonesia, China and Central America. The organization’s volunteer network comprises 400 occupational health
and safety professionals in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico who
are members of AIHA, APHA, ACGIH®, the American Society of
Safety Engineers (ASSE), the National Safety Council (NSC) and
over 20 grassroots occupational health and safety organizations
in the U.S. and Canada.
“Our network provides a unique opportunity for AIHA members
and other occupational health and safety professionals to use
their expertise, talents and skills to help some of the most vulnerable and exploited people on earth,” said MHSSN founder and
volunteer coordinator Garrett D. Brown, MPH, CIH. According to
Brown, MHSSN provides technical assistance and support in developing countries that often lack unions and where maintaining
jobs is vital to working people—no matter the sacrifice. “In the
developing world there are almost no unions, so workers have no
way to protect themselves on the job. The levels of formal education are not as high as they are in developed countries, and it is
absolutely necessary for people to work and earn a living no
matter how unsafe, dangerous or unhealthy their workplaces are,”
Brown stated. “Our network helps build the capacity of worker
organizations so that they understand basic health and safety
concepts, hazards, controls and their rights, both nationally and
Expanding the Network
MHSSN’s first project involved health and safety training for
staff members of various grassroots organizations, community
members and workers in maquiladora factories along the U.S.-Mexico border, and has helped several Mexican organizations
file labor complaints under the NAFTA “labor side agreement.”
Since then, the organization has expanded its efforts in the
Western Hemisphere to the rest of Mexico, Central America and
In 2000, MHSSN began work in Asia, training workers and
community-based and human rights organizations in Indonesia
and the Pearl River Delta in Southern China. In China, the organization launched projects involving labor rights groups in
Hong Kong and mainland China to protect migrant workers in
large factories that produce consumer goods for U.S. companies. MHSSN has also worked with footwear giants, such as
Adidas, Nike and Reebok; major apparel companies including
The Gap; and university apparel supplier Knights Apparel in
training programs for management and worker members of
plant health and safety committees.
In 2007, MHSSN conducted an on-site inspection and health
surveys with 70 union miners on strike in Cananea, Mexico,
documenting the numerous health hazards found in the mine
and the serious health problems inflicting members of the
Mexican Miners’ Union. Most recently, the organization partnered with the Workers Rights Consortium and Knights Apparel
to establish the world’s only non-sweatshop garment factory in
the Dominican Republic.
“Our Network’s growth over the last 20 years shows not only
the need for workplace protections in the developing world, but
also the opportunities for and value of OHS professionals’ contributions toward a world without sweatshops,” Brown said.
“We all have our grain of sand to add to the global effort for
safer, healthier factories everywhere in the world.”
For more information about MHSSN, including how to volunteer, visit
http://mhssn.igc.org, or contact Garrett Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brooke Morris is an editorial assistant for The Synergist. She can be reached at
(703) 846-0737 or email@example.com. The transcript of her interview with Brown is
on the Synergist blog at www.aiha.org/SynergistBlog.