Mexico is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the MORENA party coalition won the presidential election in generally free and fair multiparty elections in 2018. In the June midterm elections, citizens voted for all members of the Chamber of Deputies, 15 governors, state legislators, and mayors across the country. The elections were generally free and fair.
The National Guard and state and municipal police are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order. The National Guard, which began operations in 2019, is a civilian institution reporting to the Secretariat of Public Security and Civil Protection. In 2019 the Federal Police was disbanded, and in May 2020 all remaining assets and personnel transferred to the National Guard. A 2019 constitutional amendment grants the president the authority to use the armed forces to protect internal and national security through 2024. Most National Guard personnel are seconded from the army and navy and have the option to return to their services after five years. State preventive police report to state governors, while municipal police report to mayors. The Secretariat of National Defense and Secretariat of the Navy also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combating organized criminal groups. The National Migration Institute, under the authority of the Interior Secretariat, is responsible for enforcing migration law. Although authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, there were instances in which security force elements acted independently of civilian control. There were credible reports that members of security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police, military, and other governmental officials; forced disappearance by government agents; torture and degrading treatment by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence against journalists; acts of corruption; insufficient investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons.
Impunity and extremely low rates of prosecution remained a problem for all crimes, including human rights abuses and corruption. There were reports some government agents were complicit with international organized criminal gangs, and prosecution and conviction rates were low for these abuses.
Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs, and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of homicide, torture, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, bribery, intimidation, and other threats, resulting in high levels of violence and exploitation, particularly targeting vulnerable groups. The government investigated and prosecuted some of these crimes, but the vast majority remained uninvestigated and unprosecuted.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that government entities or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) is responsible for independently investigating security force abuses, including killings, and can issue nonbinding recommendations for prosecution. State human rights commissions investigate state and municipal police forces and can issue similar recommendations. State and federal prosecutors are independent of the executive branch and have the final authority to investigate and prosecute security force abuses.
In February authorities arrested 12 state police officers in Camargo, Tamaulipas, on homicide charges in connection with the massacre and burning of the bodies of three smugglers and 16 Guatemalan migrants en route to the United States. As of August 16, the suspects remained in detention awaiting trial. In March police officers broke the neck of Salvadoran refugee Victoria Salazar. The Quintana Roo prosecutor general confirmed police officers used disproportionate force during the arrest. Authorities arrested four police officers and charged them with femicide (killing a woman because of her gender). As of August 27, the suspects were awaiting trial.
Human rights and environmental activists, many from indigenous communities, continued to be targets of violence. The CNDH reported that assailants killed 12 human rights defenders from January to July.
As of September 13, three municipal police officers from Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, remained in pretrial detention for the killing of Giovanni Lopez. The Jalisco government disarmed the municipal police force of Ixtlahuacan and turned over public security duties to the National Guard and the Jalisco Secretariat for Public Security.
In July the army provided reparations to two of the three families of persons killed in July 2020 by soldiers in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, during an encounter with suspected cartel members. On October 7, the army relieved Colonel Miguel Angel Ramirez Canchola, accused of ordering the killings, of his posting, but as of October prosecutors had not taken action against the soldiers.
On October 1, a judge sentenced Fidel Figueroa, mayor of Zacualpan, state of Mexico, to 236 years in prison for murder. Figueroa collaborated with criminal organizations to kidnap the prosecutor general of Ixtapan de la Sal, state of Mexico, and others in 2019, resulting in the death of one of the prosecutor general’s bodyguards.
Organized criminal groups were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in collusion with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials. On June 19, a dispute between factions of the Gulf cartel killed 15 persons in the state of Tamaulipas. Security forces responded by killing four suspects and arresting 25.
Disappearances remained a persistent problem throughout the country, especially in areas with high levels of cartel or gang-related violence. There were reports of numerous forced disappearances by organized crime groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion with authorities. Investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime of forced disappearance were rare.
Federal and state databases were incomplete and had data-crossing problems; forensic systems were highly fragmented between the local, state, and federal levels; and the sheer volume of unsolved cases was far greater than the forensic systems were capable of handling. In its data collection, the government often merged statistics on forcibly disappeared persons with missing persons not suspected of being victims of forced disappearance, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.
As of December 2020 the Prosecutor General’s Office reported a total of 2,041 federal investigations underway into disappearances involving approximately 3,400 persons. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and family members of disappeared persons alleged the prosecutors undercounted the actual number of cases.
Through a nationwide assessment process, the National Search Commission (CNB) revised the government’s official number of missing or disappeared persons repeatedly as additional data became available. As of July the CNB reported that there were 89,572 missing or disappeared persons in the country. Some cases dated back to the 1960s, but the vast majority occurred since 2006. The year 2020 had the second-highest number of cases on record, with 8,626 reported missing or disappeared, down from 9,185 cases reported in 2019. The states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Mexico, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas, plus Mexico City, accounted for 76 percent of reported disappearances from 2018 to June 30.
The federal government and states continued to implement the law on forced disappearances. On August 30, the Extraordinary Mechanism for Forensic Identification became fully operational. It was created in 2019 to bring together national and international forensic experts to help identify 37,000 unidentified remains held in government facilities, coordinate implementation of the general law on forced disappearances, and allocate resources to state search commissions. In July 2020 the CNB launched a public version of the National Registry of Disappeared and Missing Persons. Between January 1 and August 4, it received 4,119 reports of missing persons and located 3,805 alive and 277 deceased.
In July the CNB reported it had recovered more than 1,100 pounds of charred human remains from La Bartolina, Tamaulipas, a clandestine cremation site found in 2017. Nationwide the CNB reported the exhumation of the remains of at least 3,025 persons in 1,749 clandestine graves between December 1, 2018, and June 30. The CNB reported that during that period, of the 3,025 bodies exhumed, authorities identified 1,153 and returned 822 to their families.
The government increased the CNB budget 8 percent over the 2020 budget. According to NGOs, however, the state search committees often lacked the capacity to fulfill their mandate. Civil society and families of the disappeared stated the government’s actions to prevent and respond to disappearances were largely inadequate to address the scale of the problem.
The federal government created a National System for the Search of Missing Persons as required by law, but as of August it had not established the required National Forensic Data Bank. The Prosecutor General’s Office owned a previous genetics database, which consisted of 63,000 profiles, and was responsible for the new database. The previous platform lacked interconnectivity between states and failed to connect family members effectively to the remains of their missing relatives.
In July the Supreme Court ruled that authorities at all levels must investigate enforced disappearances, search for disappeared persons, and inform victims of the process.
The government made efforts to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of disappearance involving government agents. From January to June, the CNDH received nine complaints accusing government agents of forced disappearances, including five against the army and four against the National Guard. In April authorities arrested 30 members of the navy and charged them with forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, in 2018. As of October the accused were in a military prison awaiting trial. In July the secretary of the navy publicly apologized to families of the victims, marking the first time the armed forces apologized for committing forced disappearances.
Investigations continued into the 2014 disappearances of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Iguala, Guerrero. Victims’ relatives and civil society continued to criticize handling of the original investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, noting there had been no convictions related to the disappearances of the 43 students. In June President Lopez Obrador announced that forensic scientists at the University of Innsbruck conclusively identified the remains of Jhosivani Guerrero, marking the third body identified of the 43 disappeared students.
As of October the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa case had arrested more than 80 suspects, including army captain Jose Martinez Crespo, an Iguala municipal police officer, and the Iguala municipal police chief. The government continued to pursue the extradition of Tomas Zeron from Israel. Zeron led the investigation of the case by the former criminal investigations unit in the Attorney General’s Office at the time of the students’ disappearances. In March 2020 a federal judge issued an arrest warrant for Zeron on charges related to his conduct of the investigation, including torturing alleged perpetrators to force confessions, conducting forced disappearances, altering the crime scene, manipulating evidence, and failing to perform his duties. He fled to Israel, and the government requested that the Israeli government issue an arrest warrant and extradite him.
In addition to the outstanding Zeron arrest warrant, the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa case issued 12 warrants and made 10 arrests for investigative irregularities, such as torture and obstruction of justice. As of September no alleged perpetrators of the disappearances had been convicted, and 78 of those initially accused were released due to lack of evidence, generally due to irregularities in their detention, including confessions obtained through torture. As of October the special unit had reissued arrest warrants for 11 of the 78 released detainees, including municipal police officers, but made no arrests.
State search collectives reported being victims, at times fatal, of attacks, threats, and other acts of harassment. In June unknown assailants killed Javier Barajas Pina in the state of Guanajuato. He was a member of a search collective and the state search commission. The state search commission paused all search efforts between May and June due to increased levels of insecurity for family search collectives, according to civil society groups. As of August 16, authorities had not arrested any suspects.
In July unknown assailants abducted and killed Aranza Ramos in the state of Sonora. Ramos had been searching for her missing husband for the previous seven months as a member of two search collectives. As of August 16, authorities had not arrested any suspects. Following Ramos’ killing, Cecilia Flores, the leader of one of the search collectives in which Ramos participated, received death threats. Flores received temporary protection from the Interior Secretariat protection mechanism.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law criminalizes the rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and conviction carries penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is criminalized in 26 of the 32 states. Between January and June, state authorities opened 10,458 new rape investigations. There were high rates of impunity for these crimes, consistent with high impunity rates for all crimes.
Federal law prohibits domestic violence and stipulates penalties for conviction of between six months’ and four years’ imprisonment. Of the 32 states, 29 stipulate similar penalties, although sentences were often more lenient. Federal law criminalizes spousal abuse. State and municipal laws addressing domestic violence largely failed to meet the required federal standards and often were unenforced. In June the government amended the General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence to include media and digital violence as a form of violence against women.
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) 2016 survey, 18 percent of women ages 15 and older reported having experienced physical violence at the hands of their current or most recent partner, and 6.5 percent reported having experienced sexual violence. The increase in domestic violence cases that began during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic continued. The Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System reported 23,907 domestic violence cases in May, an all-time monthly record. Between January and June, state authorities opened 129,020 new domestic violence investigations.
In March authorities in Mexico City opened an investigation based on allegations of rape against Andres Roemer, a prominent writer, producer, consular officer, and former UNESCO goodwill ambassador. Since 2019 more than 60 women accused Roemer of sexual abuse, assault, and rape. In July the Mexico City Prosecutor General’s Office issued the fourth arrest warrant for Roemer. Authorities were attempting to extradite Roemer from Israel.
The Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System reported more than 1,889 killings of women, including 672 femicides, from January to September. September had the highest incident rate, with an average of 84 women killed in each month. The 911 hotline received 139,554 calls reporting incidents of violence against women from January to June, an increase of 6 percent over the same months in 2020. The 27,751 calls to the hotline in May were the most since the creation of the hotline. Calls included reports of relationship aggression, sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, and intrafamily violence. The National Shelter Network reported that the network assisted 12,000 women and children between January and August.
Femicide is a federal offense punishable by 40 to 70 years in prison. It is also a criminal offense in all states. The law describes femicide as a gender-based murder under any of the following seven circumstances: signs of sexual violence, previous violence, emotional connection to the perpetrator, previous threats, harassment history, victim held incommunicado prior to deprivation of life, or victim’s body exposure in a public place. According to National Security Secretariat statistics, between January and June, state-level prosecutors and attorneys general opened 495 femicide investigations throughout the country, exceeding the 477 state-level femicide investigations opened in the first half of 2020 (statistics from state-level reports often conflated femicides with all killings of women).
The National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women is responsible for leading government programs to combat domestic violence. Reforms to the Prosecutor General’s Office split the Office for Combating Violence Against Women and the Trafficking in Persons offices in an effort to elevate these issues by giving each its own special prosecutor general. Between January and June, the commission registered that 115,534 women received attention in Justice Centers for Women throughout the country, a 19 percent increase over the same period in 2020.
In addition to shelters, women’s justice centers provided services including legal, psychological, and protective; however, the number of cases far surpassed institutional capacity. According to multiple NGOs, due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy, funding sources for women’s shelters, including for indigenous women, were insufficient. Federal government funding for women’s shelters for the year was the same as in 2020. Federal funding assisted the operation of more than 69 shelters, external attention centers, emergency houses, and transition houses. NGOs operated 85 percent of the facilities, and government organizations operated the remaining 15 percent.
Sexual Harassment: Federal law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for fines from 250 to 5,000 times the minimum daily wage, but the law was not effectively enforced. Of the 32 states, 24 criminalize sexual harassment, and all states have provisions for punishment when the perpetrator is in a position of power. According to the National Women’s Institute, the federal institution charged with directing national policy on equal opportunity for men and women, sexual harassment in the workplace was a significant problem.
On February 6, the federal Law Against Digital Harassment took effect. The law criminalizes sharing, distributing, and publishing intimate sexual content (including photographs, audio, and videos) featuring individuals who have not explicitly given their consent, with penalties of up to six years in prison. Women’s rights activists supported the law as critical to combat the increasingly prevalent problem of online sexual harassment. In April authorities arrested and prosecuted Alexis Rafael Valadez Vazquez under the new law for publishing intimate photographs of women online, without their consent, to extort them.
Reproductive Rights: There were no confirmed reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Federal authorities supported access to contraceptive methods, but states’ efforts varied widely. Barriers to accessing contraceptives stemmed from lack of knowledge, poverty, lack of access to health services, and sexual violence from family members, strangers, or friends. An Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation study on the use of contraceptives in Chiapas (the poorest state) found that older women were less likely to use family planning methods (13 percent of women ages 35 and older, versus 18 percent of women ages 20-34), while 23 percent of indigenous women opposed birth control for religious, cultural, or social reasons. The National Population Council estimated that in 2020 and 2021, a total of 1,172,000 women had limited access to contraceptives due to COVID-19. The National Population Council reported that in 2020 there were 373,661 pregnancies in women younger than age 19 (30 percent above 2019), of which 8,876 were in girls ages 14 or younger. The states with the most teenage pregnancies were Chiapas, Coahuila, and Guerrero, and Tabasco. Sometimes family members arranged marriages for girls younger than 18. INEGI found that 53 percent of women of reproductive age used modern contraception in 2018 (the most recent study).
By law government health providers are obliged to offer sexual and reproductive emergency health services for survivors of sexual violence within 120 hours of the sexual assault. Emergency contraception was available, including for survivors of sexual assault. Nevertheless, women nationwide faced obstacles to accessing emergency services due to health providers’ personal objections to emergency contraception or misunderstanding of their legal obligations to provide services.
Factors associated with maternal deaths included parents with lower levels of education, poor hospital infrastructure and human capacity, and lack of access to maternity care, especially for pregnant women living in rural areas. Southern states reported the lowest access to skilled health care during pregnancy due to geographic, financial, and cultural barriers. In rural areas in 2019, the cause of most maternal deaths was obstetric hemorrhage.
Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men and “equal pay for equal work performed in equal jobs, hours of work, and conditions of efficiency.” The law establishes penalties for discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, color, religion, language, pregnancy, political belief, or any other nature that violates human dignity. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women tended to earn substantially less than men did for the same work. Women were more likely to experience discrimination in wages, working hours, and benefits.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the median salary for full-time female employees was 19 percent less than that of full-time male employees. Only 7.5 percent of the members of the executive boards of publicly traded domestic companies were female, and men held 64 percent of managerial positions throughout the country. According to INEGI’s 2016 National Survey on the Dynamics of Household Relationships, 22 percent of working women reported experiencing labor discrimination within the previous 12 months.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The government continued its efforts to strengthen freedom of association protections, promote union democracy, and improve the ability of workers to bargain collectively. Efforts focused on implementation of the 2019 labor law reform that transformed the labor justice system. The reforms provide workers with the right to freely elect union representatives and approve or reject collective bargaining agreements through a secret ballot process before they are registered. The reforms prevent the registration of collective bargaining agreements known as “protection contracts,” which nonrepresentative unions often negotiated and signed without the knowledge of workers and undermined genuine collective bargaining. The reforms call for the creation of independent labor courts to replace the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) that favored corporatist unions in the resolution of disputes and facilitated the registration of protection contracts. The reforms also establish an expedited and more transparent judicial process for unions to obtain collective bargaining rights.
In addition to a more impartial and streamlined judicial process for labor disputes, the reforms transfer the registration of unions and collective bargaining agreements from the CABs to a new independent Federal Conciliation and Labor Registration Center. The Federal Center also carries out mandatory pre-judicial conciliations at the federal level, with local conciliation centers carrying out the same function at the state level. The reforms establish a four-year timeline for implementation designed to end May 1, 2023, but the government established an accelerated timeline to complete implementation by May 2022 and remained on track to meet that goal.
The government continued implementing the labor reforms in a phased manner, with the reform coming online in eight states in November 2020, and phase two started on November 3 with 13 states, and phase three to be concluded on May 1, 2022, for the remaining states. As of July, 39 percent of active unions under local jurisdiction had registered required amendments to their amended statutes to incorporate new secret ballot and gender equity requirements with the CABs. As of July, 94 percent of active unions under federal jurisdiction had registered their amended statutes with the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS), but only 39 percent of active unions under local jurisdiction had registered their amendments with the CABs. The deadline for unions to amend and register their statutes, originally set to expire in May 2020, was suspended due to COVID-19, reestablished in late 2020, and continued as of November.
Responsibility for registration of unions and collective bargaining agreements, including amendments to their statutes, shifted to the Federal Conciliation and Labor Registration Center in November 2020 for the eight phase-one states. The Federal Center took over registration functions nationwide on November 3 and was preparing to launch a national union registry to contain all files related to union registration and statutes, collective bargaining agreements, and union financial statements.
On May 1, the role of verifying the process for unions to organize a secret ballot vote for workers to approve or reject existing collective bargaining agreements within the four-year period established by the reforms (legitimization process) transitioned from the STPS to the Federal Center. As part of that process, the Federal Center published a new legitimization protocol to include a mechanism that allows for submission of complaints regarding alleged irregularities that may happen prior to, during, and after the vote. The Federal Center, however, estimated that only 10 to 15 percent of those collective bargaining agreements would undergo a legitimization vote because the worksite where the agreement was valid had closed, the work for which the agreement was negotiated had concluded, or the contract was a protection contract held by a nonrepresentative union. As of September workers had reviewed and voted on 1,790 collective bargaining agreements, less than 1 percent of the total number of agreements.
Federal labor law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive government recognition, unions and their leaders must file for registration with the Federal Center. The Federal Center and the new federal labor courts are designed to handle all matters related to collective bargaining agreements, but until the Federal Center establishes its offices in all the states, labor disputes in states without a Federal Center presence are to be handled by the CABs. The CABs operate under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives, with worker representation on the CABs selected based on majority representation, which was held by entrenched nondemocratic unions that sign “protection” contracts with complicit employers to secure low wages.
By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own statutes. Under the labor reform, to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, the union must first obtain a certificate of representativeness from the Federal Center demonstrating it has support from at least 30 percent of workers to be covered by the agreement. Before a strike may take place, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, or the appropriate labor court once they are operational. Workers, the employer, or an interested third party may request the CAB or court rule on the legality of the strike, which may find the strike is “nonexistent” and therefore illegal. In June the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision confirming that the exercise of the right to strike suspends the processing of collective conflicts of an economic nature that may be pending before the court and the topics that they present, unless the workers express in writing their agreement to submit the conflict to the decision of the court. This decision prevented a protection union from attempting to stop the strike by filing a challenge to the Mineros Union’s control of the existing collective bargaining agreement at the San Martin mine in Sombrerete, Zacatecas.
The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for the reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker without just cause and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also exempts broad categories of employees from this protection, including so-called employees of confidence and workers in the job for less than one year.
The government’s failure to enforce labor laws left workers with little recourse for violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor provisions in states that had not yet implemented the new labor justice model. The CABs’ continued failures to administer and oversee procedures related to union activity impartially and transparently, such as union elections, registrations, and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced violence and intimidation perpetrated by protection union leaders and employers supporting them, as well as other workers, union leaders, and vigilantes hired by a company to suppress opposition to an existing union in bargaining-rights elections. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of temporary or fake employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union. The CABs were widely alleged to administer these elections with a bias against new, independent unions.
In April the STPS suspended a legitimization vote at the General Motors plant in Silao, Guanajuato, due to serious irregularities during the vote. Workers argued that the protectionist union holding the collective bargaining agreement pressured workers to legitimize the agreement, offered bribes, and tampered with ballots. After the STPS canceled the vote, in May the rapid response mechanism under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement commenced, and the government agreed to review a denial of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights at the plant, confirming the denial of rights. In July an arrangement was reached on a course of remediation, which included a new collective bargaining agreement legitimization vote under the supervision of the STPS, with observers from the National Electoral Institute and the International Labor Organization. The new vote took place on August 17-18, and a majority of workers rejected the collective bargaining agreement. As a result other unions, including a new union formed by workers after the vote, gained the right to seek representation rights and negotiate a new agreement. The STPS certification of the new election set November 3 as the date for termination of the existing agreement, thus establishing that representation rights would be determined under the new labor reform rules and institutions.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. While penalties for conviction of forced labor were commensurate with those for similar crimes, very few cases were successfully prosecuted. State governments reported investigating 12 suspected forced labor cases in 2020. Federal and state labor inspectorates conducted nearly 30,000 labor inspections in formally registered businesses in 2020 but did not conduct inspections in the informal sector.
Forced labor persisted in the domestic service and in child-care, manufacturing, mining, food-processing, construction, tourism, begging, street-vending, leather-goods-production, and agriculture sectors, especially in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes. Women and children were subjected to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.). Many workers were compelled into forced labor through debt bondage, threats of violence, and nonpayment of wages by recruiters and employers.
Day laborers and their children were the primary victims of forced and child labor in the agricultural sector, particularly in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes. In 2016, the most recent data available, INEGI reported that 44 percent of persons working in agriculture were day laborers. Of the day laborers, 33 percent received no financial compensation for their work, and only 3 percent had a formal written contract.
Indigenous persons in isolated regions reported incidents of forced labor in which cartel members forced them to perform illicit activities or face death. Minors were recruited or forced by cartels to traffic persons, drugs, or other goods across the border with the United States. Migrants were also recruited by criminal organizations to conduct illicit activities.
Criminal groups became increasingly involved in the illegal timber trade in Chihuahua, which accounted for 70 percent of the wood consumed in the country. Drug traffickers involved in illegal logging recruited and kidnapped indigenous persons and children in isolated or displaced communities, withheld their wages, forced them to conduct illicit activities, and often threatened death if they tried to leave.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than age 15 from working and allows those ages 15 to 17 to work no more than six daytime hours in nonhazardous conditions daily, and only with parental permission and permission from the labor authority. The law requires children younger than 18 to complete compulsory basic education and to have a medical certificate to work. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18, including all work in the agricultural sector. The law prohibits minors from working in a broad list of hazardous and unhealthy occupations. The pandemic severely impacted the economy, resulting in a significant increase in the number of children engaging in child labor. Despite a government program to transmit public education classes via internet, television, and radio during the pandemic, reports suggested that at least 2.5 million children did not continue their basic education.
At the federal level, the Secretariat of Social Development, Prosecutor General’s Office, and National System for Integral Family Development share responsibility for inspections to enforce child labor laws and to intervene in cases in which employers violate such laws. The STPS is responsible for carrying out child labor inspections and refers cases of child labor to the Prosecutor General’s Office for sanctions. Penalties were commensurate with other similar laws but were rarely enforced. In 2020 the STPS Federal Labor Inspectorate conducted almost 30,000 labor inspections nationwide but reported finding only one case of child labor. State labor inspectors, however, reported finding evidence of child labor, particularly in agricultural establishments.
State-level prosecutors reported investigating at least 199 cases involving child trafficking victims in 2020. The government was reasonably effective in enforcing child labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in the export-oriented factory (maquiladora) sector and other industries under federal jurisdiction.
Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies, in agriculture, and in construction, and nearly absent in the informal sector in which most child laborers worked. Inspectors generally were permitted to examine the informal sector only in response to complaints. Social programs to combat child labor did not address all sectors where child labor occurred. Children performed dangerous tasks in agriculture in the production of beans, chili peppers, coffee, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, onions, tomatoes, and tobacco. Children also produced garments, leather goods, and illicit crops such as opium poppies; engaged in illicit activities such as the production and trafficking of drugs; and experienced sexual exploitation, often as a result of human trafficking.
Underage children in urban areas earned money by begging, washing windshields, selling small items, or performing in public places.
According to a 2019 National Child Labor Survey, the number of children ages five to 17 in child labor, including in hazardous household work, was 3.3 million, or approximately 11.5 percent of children in the country. This represented an increase of 11 percent of children from the 2017 INEGI survey. Of all children, 7.1 percent, or two million, were younger than the minimum age of work or worked under conditions that violated federal labor law, such as performing hazardous work.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation. Federal law specifically proscribes discrimination based on ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, disability, social status, health, religion, immigration status, political opinion, sexual preference, marital status, or pregnancy. The government did not effectively enforce the law or regulations. The law mandates that all discrimination cases, including sexual harassment, bypass formerly mandatory conciliation and proceed directly to the labor courts.
Penalties for violations of the law were commensurate with those for other similar laws. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTQI+ individuals, and migrant workers. According to a 2017 INEGI survey, the most recent information available, 12 percent of women were illegally asked to take a pregnancy test as a prerequisite to being hired. Job announcements specifying desired gender, age, marital status, and parental status were common. INEGI reported in 2017 that 23 percent of working women experienced violence in the workplace within the past 12 months and that 6 percent experienced sexual violence. The government approved the National Work and Employment Program for People with Disabilities 2021-2024, aimed at strengthening labor inclusion of persons with disabilities and supporting the employment of persons with disabilities in decent work.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission is responsible for establishing minimum salaries. In January 2020 the government raised the minimum wage. The new wage applied to all sectors and allowed an earner to reach or exceed the poverty line. In March the government amended federal labor law to define the minimum wage as the lowest cash amount a worker receives for services rendered during a workday and stipulated it should never be below the inflation rate. Most formal-sector workers (70 percent) received between one and three times the minimum wage.
Federal law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work in excess of eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker is to receive double pay. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work.
Between September 2020 and June, the STPS reported conducting labor inspections in 22,350 work centers nationwide benefiting more than three million workers. Civil society organizations, however, reported that the number of labor inspections was not sufficient to secure compliance. There were 600 federal labor inspectors to cover the entire country; 60 percent of state level labor authorities had fewer than 10 inspectors. Criminal cases related to such violations were rarely carried out. Penalties for law violations regarding hours and minimum wage were commensurate with those for other similar laws but were rarely enforced.
According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach – requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting down hours when it is light – to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquiladora sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays.
Many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers through subcontracting regimes or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. On April 24, congress approved a reform to the labor law aimed at banning subcontracting of personnel for core or main economic activities in the public and private sectors. Subcontracting is allowed if it is used to perform specialized services unrelated to the main economic activity of businesses or public institutions. The law mandates the creation of a public registry of companies supplying specialized services to verify only registered companies fulfilling tax and administrative requirements may supply those services. According to the Mexican Social Security Institute, as a result of the law 2.7 million workers of the 4.6 million subcontractors moved from formal subcontracting status to a formal direct employment status. Approximately 23 percent of informal workers (6.8 million persons) were employed by formal businesses or organizations but paid in cash off the books to evade taxes and social security payments.
Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multinational apparel brands reported that employers in export-oriented supply chains increasingly used hiring methods that lessened job security. For example, manufacturers commonly hired workers on one- to three-month contracts and then waited a period of days before rehiring them on new short-term contracts to avoid paying severance and to prevent workers from accruing seniority. This practice violated federal law and restricted workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Observers noted that it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Outsourcing practices made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, thus limiting their ability to seek redress of labor grievances.
Citizens hoping to obtain temporary, legal employment in the United States and other countries frequently paid recruiters hundreds or thousands of dollars in prohibitive fees to secure jobs, and many prospective workers were promised jobs that did not exist. The government rarely investigated cases of alleged abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices. Although the law requires entities recruiting for overseas employment to register with the STPS, there is no enforcement mechanism, and only a handful of recruiters complied.
The situation of agricultural workers remained particularly precarious, with similar patterns of exploitation throughout the sector. Labor recruiters enticed families to work during harvests with verbal promises of decent wages and a good standard of living. Rather than receiving daily wages once a week, as mandated by law, day laborers had to meet certain harvest quotas to receive the promised wage. Wages were illegally withheld until the end of the harvest to ensure that the workers did not leave. Civil society organizations alleged that workers were prohibited from leaving by threats of violence or by nonpayment of wages. Workers had to buy food and other items at the company store at high markups, at times leaving them with no money at the end of the harvest after settling debts. Civil society groups reported families living in inhuman conditions, with inadequate and cramped housing, no access to clean water or bathrooms, insufficient food, and without medical care. With no access to schools or child care, many workers took their children to work in the fields.
Occupational Safety and Health: The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations, issued jointly by the STPS and Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The STPS has the authority to order labor inspections at any time in the event of labor law violations, imminent risk to employees, or workplace accidents. Penalties for law violations regarding occupational safety and health regulations were commensurate with those for other similar laws but were rarely enforced.
News reports indicated poor working conditions in some factories. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, a lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and no freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse.
According to data from the Mexican Social Security Institute, in 2020 there were approximately 278,000 workplace accidents, resulting in 666 deaths.
Hundreds of thousands of workers continued to work in foreign-owned factories, mainly in northern border states, producing electronics, medical equipment, and auto parts. Several outbreaks of COVID-19 resulted in multiple deaths. Some companies reportedly did not implement effective protective measures for employees, and one factory, owned by Eaton Corporation in Baja California, was operating illegally and was closed after it placed chains on its doors to prevent 800 workers from leaving.
Informal Sector: According to INEGI informal workers represented 56 percent of total workers in the country as of the second quarter of the year. Labor inspections focused on the formal sector, leaving informal workers with no labor law protection. Informal workers were in every sector of the economy, with agriculture as the sector with the greatest number of informal workers. While on average informal workers earned less than the minimum wage, in some areas, such as near the northern border, informal employment could pay more than formal employment in the manufacturing sector. Informal workers lacked access to social protection mechanisms such as health care and retirement benefits.