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The workers behind the U.S.-Mexico medical device supply chain


WATCH: Women who manufacture medical devices for the U.S. along the border are essential, especially during a global pandemic. But when they fall sick, they face harassment and discrimination at work. This group of medically vulnerable women must decide between maintaining their livelihoods and staying safe.



American-owned factories along the U.S.-Mexico border, commonly known as maquiladoras, are the backbone of California’s pandemic response. In maquiladoras, workers manufacture complex, lifesaving medical devices such as ventilators, respirators, masks, hospital beds and more. But only for export to the United States.


Despite Mexico’s medical device shortages and devastating COVID outbreak, which has infected more than 3.9 million people and killed 297,000 (a statistic widely considered to be low), Mexican hospitals and patients do not have access to maquiladora-fabricated critical supplies.


This is the nature of maquiladoras, which have existed along the U.S.-Mexico border since the 1960s and proliferated after the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement was approved in 1994. The maquiladora system provides tax benefits and cheap, highly skilled labor to foreign companies — all the while fostering an economy notorious for worker abuse and the degradation of local communities.

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