The urban Bolivian population works tirelessly to make ends meet. Some workers are employed in formal and informal sectors simultaneously, while also engaging in agriculture. The multiple jobs worked by individuals, including children, is an indicator of underemployment and poverty.
An industry that has persisted through centuries is jewelry production. Bolivia has had industrial-scale silver mines since Spanish colonization in the 16th century. Conditions at these mines were horrific under Spanish rule and remain deadly today. Much silver is exported, but some, produced by Bolivian “cooperatives,” is transported from the Potosi mines to La Paz, for jewelry manufacturing.
In the mid-1990s, two entrepreneurs set up manufacturing operations to export Bolivian jewelry. Exportadores Bolivianos, or Exbol, founded at that time, swiftly became one of Bolivia’s largest jewelry exporters, building client relationships with Sears, Wal-Mart and others. Insecurity in trade agreements with the US, combined with the economic downturn in 2008, has reduced demand for Bolivian jewelry. This has affected the ability of Exbol to retain its workforce and maintain its salary levels.
Labor rights are notoriously challenging in Bolivia, where an estimated 65% of workers do not earn sufficient wages to achieve an adequate standard of living. Exbol endeavored to pay living wages, but market forces have impacted the company’s ability to maintain high standards. The external forces impacting corporate efforts to respect human rights are under ongoing examination.