Farmers, NAFTA and Global Agricultural Corporate Interests




A visit to the Mexican border to view the conditions for workers in the maquiladoras often provides surprises about who those people we meet are and where they came from.  So many of the workers are doing factory work for the first time in their lives.   They are migrants who came to the border because their lives on the farmland had been drastically transformed by the intersection of changing economic policies and natural disasters. A high majority of them are from farming communities deep in the Mexican southern interior.  Many of the migrants at the Texas-Mexico border hail from lush agricultural regions like Veracruz.  They arrive to find a living environment that is hot, dusty and inhospitable for those without the resources to create a comfortable home.  In the desert environment they find jobs in the factories but quickly see that the  working conditions or pay are mean, hostile, unsafe.   Before long the farmer-turned-factory workers are wanting to return to the communal farmlands historically known as ejidos, in theory protected by post-Revolution reforms for peasant farmers.  But too often the worker knows that s/he cannot easily go back — they will face back home conditions that will only lead them into the extreme poverty that triggered their migration to El Norte.    So they resign themselves to stay, risking everyday their health because of the harshness of the schedules, the toxicity of the workplace, the meagerness of the pay.

One part of the NAFTA abandoned the migrant laborer by leaving out protections for workers, while other parts of neoliberal trade policies directly affected the ability of the small Mexican farmer to survive on the ejidos.   Farmers turned maquiladora workers often say “our government abandoned us.”  The liberalization of agricultural trade between the U.S. and Mexico under NAFTA has in fact had a negative impact on the smaller Mexican domestic farmer who has faced competition or other pressures  from the exporting by U.S. farmers of below cost products  (e.g.,corn). NAFTA in a sense contributed to a “global politics of food production” that has tended to marginalize the already poor thus reinforcing hierarchies of power and privilege. Too frequently left out of the analysis has been the role that marginalization of small farmers or agricultural laborers, as a consequence of new trade deals between the U.S. and countries like Mexico, plays in the ongoing phenomenon of migrations northward.

An October 2013  ruling by a Mexican court  weighed in on the battle over the power of the U.S. global agricultural corporation to introduce farming methods that not only further debilitate sustainable agricultural practices but also do further damage to the livelihoods of the small Mexican farmer.   The Mexican court imposed a moratorium on the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and dealt a blow to the power of Monsanto, Inc. one of the world’s largest agricultural companies to further profit from its global GMO agenda at the expense of sustainable agriculture, economic justice for the small migrant farmer and biodiversity.

The following article, available in both Spanish and English, by Professor Carmen G. Gonzalez of Seattle University School of Law analyzes the applicable international law and places the GMO issue in the larger context of agricultural trade policy and the pauperization of small farmers in the developing world.

Organismos Geneticamente Modificados (OGM) y Justicia (español)

Genetically Modifiied Organisms (GMO) and Justice (english)


Writer, attorney, Lawprof Emerita from Northern Illinois University.
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