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The struggle to improve workers' rights in Mexican maquiladoras and export processing zones elsewhere in the world is central to the politics of global economic integration. State-centered development is increasingly compromised by supranational institutions and trade agreements. Meanwhile, multinational corporations are relocating at an unprecedented rate to overseas locations. Export processing zones are notorious for poor working conditions and result in a "race to the bottom." The maquila sector in Mexico is a prime example of this phenomenon. This article uses two case studies to examine ways in which grassroots organizing has successfully resisted low wages and poor working conditions through international network building and information sharing. It combines social movement theory with the literature on international relations to conceptualize the internationalization of grassroots efforts to pressure multinational corporations and host governments to respect labor laws included in international trade agreements, national standards, and self-mandated corporate codes of conduct. Key to the success in both cases has been the role that nonstate actors played in domestic and international politics, operating outside of national borders to simultaneously target the local, national, and international level.


This article was originally published in Mobilization: An International Quarterly, volume 9, issue 3, in 2004.

Peer Reviewed



San Diego State University



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