By Georgia Conover
In Spanish, Fronteras means borders. It is also the name of a small town 40 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. It was here that an all-female co-op called La Chicas Bravas, or “The Tough Women,” formed to bring jobs to Fronteras. In 2002, the co-op contracted with a Vermont recycling company to have old computers and televisions shipped to Fronteras, where they are disassembled by hand. Now the operation is proving successful and may expand to employ more workers.
At first blush, this appears to be a typical tale about the outsourcing of cheap labor and the exportation of waste from the developed to the developing world…a topic familiar to geographers studying commodity chains and the international division of labor. What makes this story unique is the role both the company and the co-op played in creating the cross-border partnership.
The owner of the Vermont recycling company had to be convinced to move operations to Mexico. No components, to include waste, remain in Fronteras. Finally, it was the co-op and not government or business officials that set terms of trade, including a living wage for employees and a 50-percent share of the business.
While the literature is divided about the impact of job creation on Mexican migration, members of the co-op say the recycling plant is providing much needed work and that means fewer residents of Frontera migrating illegally into the United States.