Eva Seidelman, ILRF Program Assistant
On September 15th, hundreds of organizations, members of Congress and individuals submitted comments to the USTR regarding U.S. engagement on pending Free Trade Agreements with Colombia and South Korea. The FTAs were negotiated by Bush but have yet to be ratified by Congress. ILRF submitted comments on labor rights issues in both countries.
ILRF's comments emphasized the same points as other groups such as USLEAP, the House Trade Working Group (in the U.S. Congress) and Senator Sherrod Brown: violence, impunity and labor subcontracting must end in Colombia before the consideration of an agreement. Since January of 2007, over 75 unionists have been murdered in Colombia and hundreds of death threats, arrests and forms of harassment ensued. Additionally, over 500,000 workers are still blatantly denied the right to join a union (and denied other basic rights enjoyed by regular workers) as they are forced into "labor cooperatives." View the ILRF's brand new Freedom at Work toolkit to find more case studies of violations of the right to organize worldwide.
In the comments, ILRF focused on the importance of addressing the factors that have caused the violence, impunity and labor contracting, making Colombia one of the world's worst environments for workers to freely affiliate with a union. The Obama Administration has been cautious about moving forward with a Colombia FTA but has indicated that if certain benchmarks are met on violence and impunity, Colombia could still be rewarded with an agreement in the near future. ILRF proposes that Colombia should not be rewarded with an agreement until it meets very strict preconditions, not short term benchmarks, including the dismantling of illegal paramilitary groups that murder unionists and the investigation of all State actors and U.S. corporations that are suspected have aided and abetted paramilitaries.
ILRF recommends that the U.S. Department of Justice play a much greater role in ending violence and impunity in Colombia by investigating U.S. corporations that have allegedly financed and aided the murders of their own union affiliated employees. Complaints filed against Alabama based Drummond Coal, Dole Foods and Chiquita (by ILRF's former lawyers), have clearly demonstrated that violence against employees of these companies was directed towards union leaders and unionists who were engaged in labor disputes that were costly to the companies. Take action here to tell the DOJ to investigate Dole.
The corporations have still not been held accountable and sufficient evidence should prompt systematic investigations by the DOJ. These companies allegedly financed the AUC paramilitary group which was deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 2001. Shouldn't the enforcement of the Patriot Act apply in Colombia??