“Social Responsibility in the Binational Metropolitan Border Region: Can corporations play a role?”

Blog by Kathy Staudt. 

Fernando Avila, head of the FEChAC, Fundación del Empresariado Chihuahuense, Asociación Civil (A.C.), (Chihuahuan Business Foundation), spoke at the October 1st EP Social Justice Education Forum. Unique aspects of FEChAC include its reliance on a business tax, business councils around the State of Chihuahua, and its well-managed outcome-based organization.  

FEChAC responds to proposals submitted by nonprofit organizations (asociaciones civiles, civil-society organizations) to fund projects in the areas of education, social skills, and health.  This unique partnership, called the "shared social responsibility model," brings together private, nonprofit/NGO non-governmental organizations, government, and community residents. 

Avila spoke about the history of the organization, which began as a 'fund' in 1990 to respond to flooding and then became a 'foundation' in 1996. The foundation supports thousands of projects, the results for which can be found on its website: http://www.fechac.org.mx.  Many projects focus on children who attend primaria school (in morning, afternoon, and sometimes evening shifts) with safe programs to build skills and solidarity while parents work. Ampliando el Desarrollo de los Niños, (ADN), is one of them.  See various videos on You Tube with testimonies and visuals about activities:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODt9J-I8CP4 .  Foundation staff members apply for grants and partnerships which extend the resources beyond business taxes.  For example, NFL-Mexico contributions support sports programs for kids.  

Questions might be raised about nonprofit projects that can address only a fraction of systemic need without public policy change AND public funds to implement those changes. FEChAC is quite aware of the need to and challenges of changing policies, according to Avila.  For example, for its youth alcohol-prevention efforts, in a city like Ciudad Juárez where the average age of the first drink is 12, FEChAC was able to gain policy attention from the municipal government for rules that prohibit selling alcohol to children.  While enforcement is not perfect, the number of stores selling to children and teens has gone down according to their research. 

Questions also emerge about the many smaller NGOs not yet registered in government, a costly operation (15,000 pesos) plus certifications by accountants and notaries about financial management.  FEChAC works with the NGO Fortaleza to provide technical assistance to fledgling nonprofits and to pay the initial fees for registration as an official civil association.  The foundation itself is recognized widely for its standards-based management (ISO 9000) and low overhead (8%); "the United Nations calls it one of the 79 most reliable nonprofit organizations in the world," according to Avila.  

Much work remains.  While Food Banks exist elsewhere in Chihuahua, none operates in the state's largest city, Ciudad Juárez.  Also, minimum wages and maquiladora assembly-line wages are extremely low, at US$4-5 per day though average about US$8 per day in the maquilas.  A living wage, or what in Mexico is called a 'salario digno,' would allow working people to earn a salary that would afford their families greater dignity in everyday life.  Thus far, corporations have not used their political clout and socially responsible practices of foundation support to move the state in that direction.

To answer the question posed in the title, YES, corporations play a role in Mexico's State of Chihuahua through a tax they periodically renew to the state Congress on a regular basis.  However, they could play an even stronger role with efforts to change more policies and get those policies funded--especially policies to raise wages of the hundreds of thousands of factory workers.  

Readers might raise the question of whether and how corporations on the U.S. side of the border might pursue more socially responsible practices.  Businesses that make central the well-being of working people and their children (the future generation) on both sides of the border can play a role in elevating the prosperity of people in our integrated border region.  

When Oscar Martínez wrote the book Border People in 1994, he distinguished between people who identify as 'national' or 'binational' in both the U.S. and Mexico. Is this distinction still relevant, and in which direction are we leaning and growing?  We in the El Paso Social Justice Education Forum affirm the connectedness of the people in our larger metropolitan Paso del Norte region of two cities and three states divided by a borderline. We seek dialogue with our readers, attendees, and wider public on the extent to which border people are becoming more or less 'binational' and how that larger binational perspective might enhance the well-being of the more than two million of us who live, work, and interact in our borderlands.

Kathy Staudt is a retired professor and member of the El Paso Social Justice Education Forum planning committee.