The Colombia FTA shows how flawed the U.S. government’s prioritization has been—to this point—regarding labor rights in its trade agreements. The following writing explores this.
- Despite a “no” vote being encouraged by labor and civil society, the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was passed by Congress in 2011 and went into effect in 2012. Chief among the reasons for civil society’s advocating against passage was the labor and human rights record in Colombia.
- There were more than 2,200 murders of trade unionists between 1991 and 2007, with an impunity rate of over 97%. This did not stop the final text of the agreement from being signed, together by the U.S. government and Colombian government, in 2007.
- In the years between its signing and Congress’ approving of the deal, Citizens Trade Campaign reported, the figures of trade unionists’ deaths increased. The opposition from labor and human rights advocates to the deal was unmoved, despite the introduction of a Labor Action Plan (LAP), ostensibly established to bring Colombia into enforcement of labor law. More on the LAP here https://colombiareports.com/labour-action-plan-useless-detrimental-workers-union/
- Criticizing the LAP in 2011, the Latin America Working Group stated, “We could see the same shocking numbers of murders of trade unionists when the FTA is implemented, and there’s nothing in this agreement or the accord itself that would stop it from going forward.”
- Their statement proved true, as WOLA has said, “anti-union violence and labor rights violations have only increased since 2012.”
- Some members of Congress are still alarmed over the impact of our human-rights-abusing trade relationship with Colombia. In September 2017, Sens. Wyden and Casey and Reps. Neal and Pascrell wrote a letterto the Trump cabinet. It makes clear that the situation in Colombia is a lesson — and a gaping hole in a supposedly human-rights-promoting U.S. foreign policy — for how not to conduct the NAFTA renegotiation, with respect to holding trade partners to account on: actual enforcement of their compliance to domestic and international labor law. Find the letter here https://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/09.19.2017%20Labor%20Enf.%20Letter.pdf
- At present the situation has not improved. In May 2018, two high-profile incidents of violence against activists and labor-rights championscall this to attention. Read about them here https://bit.ly/2rLuUQrand herehttps://bit.ly/2KmXQWR
CONCLUSION: Any renegotiation struck with Mexico or on NAFTA, and any U.S. trade/investment policy going forward, must show that the U.S. is correcting when it comes to dealing with countries where it is dangerous to organize. Commercial benefits of trade are only meaningful if all workers’ lives and rights are defended—and trade policy is uniquely positioned to get this right. To ensure the rights to unionize (and related rights, and protections for vulnerable populations) are in place beforethe agreement is allowed to come into effect.