In Mexico, discrimination is part of business

Marketplace Staff Dec 21, 2006

TESS VIGELAND: Here’s one of the great perks of working in radio: Nobody cares what you look like. Fat, skinny, long hair, short hair, young, old . . . Doesn’t matter. For most workers in this country it’s not supposed to matter. That’s because we have laws against discrimination.

But imagine a classified job ad that reads something like this: Height? 5′ 9″. Weight? 154 to 176. Must have good presentation.

Welcome to Mexico, where discrimination based on age and looks is not just acceptable, but standard. Jordana Gustafson holds a mirror up to U.S. multinationals that are happy to meet that standard.

JORDANA GUSTAFSON: Oscar Eguibar is late for a job interview in Mexico City. Between bites of ham sandwich and swigs of Coca-Cola, he studies himself in the mirror. He takes off his black-rimmed Diesel prescription glasses. He puts them back on. He’s not sure if he should have shaved off his two-day old beard.

OSCAR EGUIBAR [translator]: Definitely, if you look young, they won’t take you seriously.

But he doesn’t want to look too old, either. The job ad he responded to calls for a man at least 29, but no older than 40.

He’s especially worried today because he got burned in his last job interview. Mancera-Ernst and Young was looking for a consultant no older than 28.

EGUIBAR [translator]: I could have passed for 28, but they called and interviewed me, and then the girl called me back and said, “Oh I’m sorry, I forgot to ask you your age. How old are you?” I said, “31.” She said, “No, no, I don’t think it’s a problem” but she never called again.

Eguibar’s experience is common in Mexico. Scan the country’s largest job website, and hundreds of companies specify preferences for gender, age, marital status and — perhaps more covertly — skin color and sex appeal. Secretarial and administrative assistant positions call almost exclusively for young, single women with “good presentation.” And managerial positions frequently look strictly for men, no older than 35, either married or divorced.

WILMA RAMIREZ [translator]: It’s grave, it’s really grve. And because of this we’re way behind economically.

Wilma Ramirez is director of the complaints unit of Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination. She receives about one complaint per day, and the three most common are for discrimination based on age, against those with HIV, and against pregnant women.

Ramirez says the result is a vast waste of human capital and loss of productivity. Many older engineers, for example, drive taxis.

RAMIREZ [translator]: You’re taking opportunities and productivity away from the country because the person you’re not hiring might be someone who’s very productive and knowledgable — who’s going to help your company or institution grow.

Ramirez says Mexicans are so accustomed to inequity, that many don’t even know what discrimination is. That’s not so surprising in a country where discrimination has only been illegal since 2003. But what disturbs Ramirez more is that American and transnational companies based here are also posting jobs with requirements that would get them sued back home.

RAMIREZ [translator]: Transnational companies should bring their policies here to Mexico. But as soon as they get here, their policies don’t apply. Instead of bringing them and generating a new employment culture, they come here, they take advantage of our discriminatory culture, and they reproduce it.

A recent scanning of job opportunities on the employment website revealed more than a dozen U.S. companies with discriminatory postings — among them Coca-Cola-Femsa, Pepsi Bottling Group, Lear Corporation, Accenture, Home Depot, Nine West, and Avon Cosmetics.

NAFTA expert Jamie Cooper says there’s a reason American companies are going to places like Mexico to do business.

JAMIE COOPER: It’s because of what we call social dumping, which is going to the lowest common denominator or bottom feeding, if you will.

Cooper says NAFTA’s side agreement on labor calls for each country to enforce its own labor laws. Corporations know that enforcement in Mexico is lax, he says.

COOPER: It should be no surprise that there are no shortage of owners or multinational corporations or their operators that take advantage of uneven or inequitable labor laws in other countries. And if that means discrimination, well that’s part of the game. That’s called global capitalism.

After a Los Angeles Times report, job postings for Coca Cola-Femsa and Lear Corporation, appeared to have been taken down. Several companies declined to comment. Pepsi Bottling Group says it plans to remove the ads.

But this doesn’t change reality for Adriana Borero. She’s an unemployed architect. While she looks for work at Puebla’s Ministry of Work and Competitiveness, she says the deck is double-stacked against her: She’s over 40, and she’s overweight.

ADRIANA BORERO [translator]: It’s very sad because in Mexico we see very capable people. We see people who want to work. But I believe they think that after age 40 you don’t need to eat. You’re already dead.

In Mexico City, I’m Jordana Gustafson for Marketplace.

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