St. Mary's Law Journal


Maquiladoras are manufacturing facilities along the United States-Mexico border operated by transnational corporations (TNCs). The arrival of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) meant TNCs are free to move capital and operations across the United States-Mexico border at will. Yet, the maquiladora workers are not free to travel or seek employment across the border. The NAFTA debate in the United States raised public awareness of environmental problems in the border region. Nevertheless, maquiladora workers have lived with environmental degradation long before the NAFTA environmental debate began. With the passage of NAFTA, increased trade and the burgeoning industries along the border are likely to exacerbate already serious environmental problems. The question of a foreign plaintiff’s freedom to choose a jurisdiction in which to sue for injuries resulting from environmental pollution is complicated by the questions of public policy and forum non conveniens considerations. Courts must weigh the interests of the United States government and citizens in resolving claims arising from injuries suffered by a Mexican plaintiff in Mexico. When United States courts face environmental tort claims brought by NAFTA nationals, the traditional forum non conveniens doctrine does not seem to fit or serve any meaningful policy goals. A better approach is the abolition of the forum non convenience doctrine. Such an abolition would eliminate any ambiguity regarding the accessibility of the United States courts to exploited workers and residents of a “free trade partner country,” and provide the most effective deterrence to future abuses and exploitation. In an age where national borders are practically removed for TNCs but still remain a solid wall to the citizens of different nations, the “judicial border” of forum non conveniens erected against maquiladora workers not only loses its logical justifications, it also works against the interest of the United States public as well.


St. Mary's University School of Law