Clarissa Pintado, Intern, International Labor Rights Forum
Colombian flower worker Dora Acero’s words were both eye-opening and moving at last week’s International Workers Rights Caucus Briefing, “Labor Rights in the Colombian Flower Sector.” Other speakers present were Congressman Phil Hare, Global Economic Policy Specialist Jeff Vogt of AFL-CIO and Executive Director Bama Athreya of the International Labor Rights Forum. They informed the audience of the atrocious labor and human rights violations taking place in Colombia, and explained why the Colombia Free Trade Agreement before Congress is a continuation of failed trade policy.
Dora Acero has worked in the Colombian flower industry for over 15 years. For the past 8 years, she has worked at La Fragancia plantation, owned by Dole Fresh Flowers, a subsidiary of Dole Food Company. At the briefing, she shared some her experiences she has had while working at the flower plantation, such as the humiliation of always having to ask permission to use the bathroom, and having to sacrifice her dignity in order to support her family, as many women flower workers must do. Dora and other workers in her union (Untrafragancia) continue to struggle to reach a collective bargaining agreement with Dole. If they reach an agreement, they will be the first independent union to have a labor contract in the entire Colombian flower industry.
Dora asked the audience to please consider the flower workers’ struggle next time they buy flowers. I hope that attendees to the congressional briefing this Friday, April 11 will also consider the flower workers. Speakers from the Cato Institute will be presenting “Trade-Offs: Why the Colombia FTA Should Pass Regardless of TAA.” When I attend, I will be sure to ask the speakers if they have kept the flower workers in mind.
In addition to Dora’s powerful words, Congressman Hare explained why Colombia is an unfit trading partner for the U.S. due to the labor and human rights violations that persist in Colombia, where approximately one trade unionist is murdered per week. Jeff Vogt described the demobilization process as largely unsuccessful. He also discussed the emergence of new armed groups and the impunity of perpetrators of violence. Bama Athreya dispelled some of the common myths regarding trade between the US and Colombia while discussing the dire circumstances that flower workers face, such as exposure to over 125 chemicals, some of which are known to cause reproductive, respiratory and neurological problems. She also made clear that the Florverde certification on many farms is little more than a guise and doesn’t protect fundamental labor rights such as freedom of association.