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.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Federal law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as the admission of confessions obtained through illicit means as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports of security forces torturing suspects.
Between January and August, the CNDH registered 26 complaints of torture and 123 for arbitrary detention. Most of these complaints were against authorities in the Prosecutor General’s Office, National Guard, Interior Secretariat, and the armed forces. As of August, 25 of 32 states had specialized prosecutor’s offices for investigating torture, or specialized investigative units within the state attorney general’s office as called for by law. Between January and May there were an additional 20 complaints of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment against the National Guard, 20 against the army, and 11 against the National Migration Institute. The CNDH did not report on the merits of the complaints.
In February the Attorney General’s Office arrested former Puebla governor Mario Marin and charged him with torturing journalist Lydia Cacho, who exposed Marin and several business leaders’ involvement in a child sex trafficking ring in 2005. As of August 23, Marin was awaiting trial. In June authorities sentenced Quintana Roo police officer Miguel Mora Olvera to five years in prison for his role in torturing Cacho.
Impunity for torture was prevalent among the security forces. NGOs stated authorities failed to investigate torture allegations adequately. As of December 2020 the Prosecutor General’s Office was investigating 3,703 torture-related inquiries under the previous inquisitorial legal system (initiated prior to the 2016 transition to an accusatorial system) and 565 investigations under the accusatorial system. According to the Mexican Commission for the Promotion of Human Rights, from 2006 to 2020, federal authorities issued 27 sentences for torture. There were accusations of sexual abuse against authorities during arrest and detention. There is no single independent oversight mechanism to review police actions, but many federal and state security and justice sector institutions have internal affairs units providing internal supervision and promoting best practices for transparency and accountability. The government’s National Council of Norms and Labor Competencies certified law enforcement internal affairs investigators and created standard internal affairs training to promote transparency and accountability. Most internal affairs units, however, were insufficiently staffed and funded. The army and the navy have human rights units to create protocols and training. The armed forces operated a military justice system to hold human rights abusers accountable.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention centers were often harsh and life threatening.
Physical Conditions: According to the Federal Prison System, as of June there were 220,393 inmates in 288 state and federal facilities with a designed capacity for 217,064. Some prisons were undersubscribed, while others were overcrowded. The CNDH’s 2020 National Diagnostic of Penitentiary Supervision reported that state prisons were understaffed and suffered from poor sanitary conditions as well as a lack of separation between those sentenced and those awaiting trial. The report noted 40 state prisons experienced overcrowding. The report singled out Hidalgo, Nayarit, Puebla, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Tamaulipas as the states with the worst prison conditions. The CNDH noted significant understaffing at all levels in federal prisons, which affected access to programs, activities, medical services, and opportunities to report possible human rights abuses.
Organized criminal groups reportedly continued to oversee illicit activities from within penitentiary walls, and rival drug cartel members often fought in prison. In June media outlets reported that a fight between two rival groups of inmates left six inmates dead and nine wounded at a prison in Villahermosa, Tabasco.
According to civil society groups, migrants at some detention centers faced abuse when commingled with gang members and other criminals.
As of July 13, a total of 3,501 prisoners had contracted COVID-19 and 75,162 had received vaccines, according to the CNDH. In response to a 2020 civil society organization lawsuit, a Mexico City court ruled authorities must implement COVID-19 detection and preventive health protocols for detainees and their families in prisons in Mexico City and psychiatric wards nationwide.
The CNDH in its report on COVID-19 measures in holding facilities found most detention facilities could not comply with social distancing measures or several other health recommendations due to lack of space, personnel, or equipment.
Administration: Authorities did not always conduct investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, CNDH, and state human rights commissions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Federal law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court; however, the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The constitution allows any person to arrest another if the crime is committed in his or her presence. A warrant for arrest is not required if an official has direct evidence regarding a person’s involvement in a crime, such as having witnessed the commission of a crime; in a 2018 report, the domestic think tank Mexico Evalua determined that 90 percent of all arrests fell under this category. Bail is available for most crimes, except for those involving organized crime and a limited number of other offenses. In most cases the law requires detainees to appear before a judge for a custody hearing within 48 hours of arrest, during which authorities must produce sufficient evidence to justify continued detention. This requirement was not followed in all cases, particularly in remote areas of the country. In cases involving organized crime, the law allows authorities to hold suspects up to 96 hours before requiring them to seek judicial review.
The procedure known in Spanish as arraigo (a constitutionally permitted form of pretrial detention employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established) allows, with a judge’s approval, for certain suspects to be detained prior to filing formal charges. Following the introduction of the accusatorial justice system, however, there was a significant reduction in the number of persons detained in this manner, falling from more than 1,900 in 2011 to 21 in 2018.
Some detainees complained of a lack of access to family members and to counsel after police held persons incommunicado for several days and made arrests arbitrarily without a warrant. Police occasionally failed to provide impoverished detainees access to counsel during arrests and investigations as provided for by law, although the right to public defense during trial was generally respected. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for it to lead to other human rights abuses. Between January and August the CNDH recorded 123 complaints of arbitrary detention.
On July 21, Merida, Yucatan, municipal police detained Jose Eduardo Ravelo Echeverria. According to the victim’s mother, police detained and interrogated him without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Media outlets reported authorities tortured and sexually abused Ravelo. A forensic doctor at the Yucatan Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed that he had suffered sexual abuse. On August 3, Ravelo died from his injuries. On August 7, Yucatan governor Mauricio Villa announced the arrest of four police officers, but on August 14, a judge set them free due to a lack of evidence.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, and authorities did not always promptly release those detained unlawfully. The law provides time limits and conditions on pretrial detention, but federal authorities sometimes failed to comply with them since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system. Abuses of time limits on pretrial detention were endemic in state judicial systems. The UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented cases in the states of Mexico and Chiapas in which detainees remained in pretrial detention for more than 12 years. A 2019 constitutional reform increased the number of crimes for which pretrial detention is mandatory and bail is not available, including armed robbery, electoral crimes, fuel theft, and weapons possession. An additional February reform mandated pretrial detention for femicides, sexual violence against minors, forced disappearances, and corruption. As a result the number of pretrial detainees increased 25 percent since 2018, and pretrial detainees comprised 40 percent of all prisoners, according to government figures.
Reports indicated that women suffered disproportionately from pretrial detention. As of June, 58 percent of women in federal prison and 51 percent in municipal and state prisons were in pretrial detention, while 42 percent of men in the federal and local judicial system were in pretrial detention, according to a report from the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection. In October 2020 authorities announced they would release Brenda Quevedo Cruz, who had been in prison without trial since 2007. Nonetheless, Quevedo Cruz remained in detention as of September 11.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level, as well as by transnational criminal organizations. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and arrest warrants were sometimes ignored. Across the criminal justice system, many actors lacked the necessary training and capacity to carry out their duties fairly and consistently in line with the principle of equal justice.
In 2016 all civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatorial trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. In most states alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.
Under the accusatorial system, judges conduct all hearings and trials and follow the principles of public access and cross-examination. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to attend the hearings and to challenge the evidence or testimony presented. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in most categories of crimes. Defendants have the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. By law attorneys are required to meet professional qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders were qualified, however, and often the state public defender system was understaffed. According to the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after their first custody hearing, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.
Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter, if needed, although interpretation and translation services for indigenous languages were not always available. Indigenous defendants who did not speak Spanish sometimes were unaware of the status of their cases and were convicted without fully understanding the documents they were instructed to sign.
In July 2020 legislators approved a law making all judicial sentences public.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Citizens have access to an independent judiciary in civil matters to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, authorities first must find the defendant guilty in a criminal case, a significant barrier due to the relatively low number of criminal convictions.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property. By law the government collected biometric data from migrants.
According to the NGO Freedom House, “Researchers continued to document cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures targeted with Pegasus spy software. After denying they existed, in 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office provided evidence of Pegasus licensing contracts in 2016 and 2017.” In July Public Safety Secretary Rosa Isela Rodriguez revealed that the Felipe Calderon and Enrique Pena Nieto administrations signed 31 contracts for $61 million to buy Pegasus spy software. In July a joint investigation by media outlets reported a leaked Pegasus list of more than 15,000 individuals as possible targets for surveillance in 2016 and 2017. The list named at least 50 persons linked to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, politicians from every party, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, prosecutors, diplomats, judges, and academics.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
Federal law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by threats and acts of kidnapping, extortion, and homicide. Organized criminal groups dominated migrant smuggling operations and often kidnapped, threatened, and extorted migrants to pay a fee for facilitating northbound travel.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to increase its legal authority to pursue these crimes. On February 19, a constitutional reform eliminated presidential immunity for corruption and other crimes. On March 11, an anticorruption and antinepotism constitutional reform granted the Federal Judiciary Council – the administrative organ of the federal court system – more oversight over district and appeals courts and limited hiring authorities of individual judges.
Corruption: There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. On June 6, authorities arrested former Nayarit governor Roberto Sandoval and his daughter Lidy Alejandra Sandoval Lopez for corruption and money laundering. Sandoval remained in pretrial detention as of August.
As of August 25, former governor of Chihuahua Cesar Duarte was awaiting an extradition decision. In July 2020 he was arrested in another country pursuant to a Mexican extradition request on charges that he diverted millions of dollars in public funds.
As of November authorities held Emilio Lozoya in pretrial detention. In July 2020 authorities extradited Lozoya, former director of PEMEX, the state-owned petroleum company, from Spain. In 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a corruption investigation against Lozoya for receiving up to $10 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. The Prosecutor General’s Office also obtained an arrest warrant against Lozoya’s mother for money laundering, and in 2019 Interpol agents arrested her in Germany. Lozoya accused high-level politicians representing multiple parties of complicity in his corrupt acts and was acting as a state’s witness in trials against them.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive, with the president and cabinet officials meeting with human rights organizations, such as OHCHR, IACHR, and CNDH. Some NGOs alleged individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders at times acted with tacit support from government officials.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a semiautonomous federal agency created by the government and funded by the legislature to monitor and act on human rights abuses.
The CNDH may call on government authorities to impose administrative sanctions or pursue criminal charges against officials, but it is not authorized to impose penalties or legal sanctions. If the relevant authority accepts a CNDH recommendation, the CNDH is required to follow up with the authority to verify that it is carrying out the recommendation. The CNDH sends a request to the authority asking for evidence of its compliance and includes this follow-up information in its annual report. When authorities fail to accept a recommendation, the CNDH makes that known publicly. It may exercise its power to call before the Senate government authorities who refuse to accept or enforce its recommendations.
All states have their own human rights commissions. The state commissions are funded by state legislatures and are semiautonomous. Some civil society groups, however, asserted that state commissions were subservient to the state executive branch. State commissions do not have uniform reporting requirements, making it difficult to compare state data and therefore compile nationwide statistics. The CNDH may take on cases from state-level commissions if it receives a complaint that the state commission has not adequately investigated the case.
Section 7. Worker Rights
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.