Fighting for worker justice in the global economy.
U.S. Congress Passes Colombia FTA; The Fight Continues
On October 12, the U.S. Congress voted to approve the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, along with two other trade pacts with Panama and South Korea. The Congressional debate focused largely on Colombia, with testimony that included discussion over labor rights abuses, the effects of the agreement on small farmers in Colombia, and U.S. job loss.
The U.S. House voted 262 to 167 in favor of the pact, and the Senate voted 66 to 33. One congressional staffer, who helped her member lead the fight against the FTA in the House, observed that it is “surprising for any FTA to receive less than 90 votes in the Senate; to receive less than 70 votes is incredible.” Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) underscored the issue of violence against unionists in Colombia during the Senate debate, remarking that “since 1986, some 2,800 trade unionists have been assassinated... Last year alone, more than 50 trade unionists were murdered, up 9% from 2009.” Sanders added that if 50 CEOs were killed, the U.S. Congress would not pass the bill.
Congressional approval of the agreement, and President Obama’s advocacy for it, are deeply disappointing. However, we must recognize that opposition to the FTA from many groups, including the Colombian trade union movement and USLEAP, helped block it from coming to a vote at all for nearly five years, a significant accomplishment in the face of so many powerful forces.
And the fight is not over. President Obama pledged to withhold the agreement until the Colombian government shows compliance with “key elements” of the Labor Action Plan signed by the two governments in April 2011. USLEAP has already been working to educate policy makers on the Colombian government's failure to meet Labor Action Plan standards, and it will not lay its advocacy efforts to rest. The vote is over but there is still a chance to slow, if not stop, implementation of the FTA until the Colombian government takes meaningful steps to address violence, impunity, and other worker rights violations.
The highly-respected National Labor School in Colombia (ENS) just published a critical report of the Colombian government’s implementation of the Free Trade Agreement Labor Action Plan six months after the Plan’s release, finding that the meager progress initiated by the Plan has not trickled down to Colombian workers and that violence against human and labor rights defenders continues. The AFL-CIO has also issued a memo detailing the failures of the Labor Action Plan.
USLEAP thanks its supporters and Congressional allies for their continued support of labor and human rights in Colombia.
Check out our collaborative labor rights blog, Labor is Not a Commodity!