Nestle workers from around the continent have met in the Colombian capital to build unity and coordinate their efforts against the policies of the multinational, the Colombian food industry union said Wednesday.
In an interview with Colombia Reports, Edgar Paez, a leader with the national food industry union Sinaltrainal, said that the meeting was a follow-up to last year’s meeting of the Coordinator of Nestle Workers in Latin America and the Caribbean (Cotranalc).
“Cotranalc decided to meet here in Colombia to strengthen solidarity, bring a greeting of Latin American and Caribbean unity, and at the same time oxygenate the struggle against the policies of the multinational Nestle,” Paez said.
Sinaltrainal has long been critical of Nestle’s labor policies in Colombia. Of the 20 Sinaltrainal union activists that have been killed since the 1986, at least 14 have been Nestle workers, according to Paez. Nestle admits that seven of its unionized workers have been killed.
The meeting took place between October 16-17, intentionally falling on World Food Day. The prior meeting in Santiago, Chile, in 2013 also took place on international day of action against hunger.
But Paez said there were also other motivations that made Cotranalc’s meeting in Colombia timely.
“Cotranalc decided to have the meeting here due to the conflicts that exists with the company, but especially because we are preparing for the anniversary of Luciano Romero’s murder,” Paez said.
Luciano Romero was a Sinaltrainal union activist who had worked for many years at a Nestle subsidiary known as Cicolac. Three years after his – wrongful, he argued – termination from the company, he was preparing to participate in Swiss tribunal against Nestle policies when he was killed by paramilitaries on September 10, 2005.
In the Bogota meeting, participants discussed the difficulties faced by Nestle workers such as “outsourcing, increasing precariousness, poverty, and the violation of rights, well-being, and life,” according to Sinaltrainal’s website.
While the workers urge Nestle to respect their right to organize and to cease using violence and intimidation as a tool to silence people, Nestle insists that these charges are unfounded.
“The security and safety of all our employees are Nestlé’s top priority. Freedom of association and the respect of human rights are firmly enshrined in all our corporate policies,” an article on the company’s website dating from last year states.
Nestle also claims that in Colombia, “the level of unionization at Nestle factories is five to 10 times the national average.”
“Workers are traveling through the country on highways, in public buses without bodyguards, without any security measures, when this is a country supremely difficult for the union movement, Paez said.
Indeed, thousands of union activists have been killed over the years, principally by paramilitaries, their successor groups, and state agents. Paez says security is a top concern for the union.
“The topic doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Cars are sitting around without gasoline. Today there is no money for the transport of bodyguards. Bodyguards are protesting because they aren’t getting paid. The situation remains very delicate.”
But Paez emphasized that security is only a temporary measure and will not fix the root of the problems faced by unions in Colombia.
“We would like to not need bodyguards. [Providing protection] doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.
“The problems that need to be solved in Colombia are those of democracy. That people be able to live in peace. That unions can work without any problems. That the companies understand that unions are necessary so that workers’ rights are not violated and so they can live with dignity.”
- Interview with Edgar Paez
- Construyendo la unidad y conquistando el bienestar para nuestros pueblos (Sinaltrainal)
- Swiss documentary “Contre Nestlé jusqu’à la mort” (Nestle)