The United States Congress has announced plans to monitor labor rights in Colombia during the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement, amid internal dissent after the agreement was finalized on April 15.
U.S. Democrat Representative Hank Johnson on Thursday criticized his government’s decision to move forward on the FTA.
“Violence against Colombian workers and minorities, and impunity for the perpetrators of violence, are rampant,” he said in a statement.
His comments came the same day the U.S. Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights, of which Johnson is a member, announced it will also participate in a Colombian Senate debate on the Labor Action Plan set for next week.
“The Government of Colombia continues to fail to protect its own people and has not yet met its obligations under the Plan,” Johnson charged. “We have the leverage to demand results. Let’s use it.”
The Labor Action Plan was a prerequisite for approval of the FTA and includes the enforcement of laws recognizing the rights of workers to organize and the prosecution of past cases of violence against labor leaders.
The working group is made up of prominent U.S. politicians including minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
In the statement, the group reiterated its committment to ensuring both countries make progress on labor rights.
“When President Obama announced this week that the Administration intends to put the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement into force next month, he noted that while Colombia has made significant progress to ensure the protection of labor rights, we all know that more work still needs to be done,” the group announced.
“The transformation of commitments made in the Labor Action Plan into meaningful change on the ground for workers’ rights has yet to be fully realized, and Colombia faces a long and challenging road to assure that workers can freely exercise fundamental internationally recognized rights,” the group declared. “Ensuring that the Labor Action Plan works as intended is vital to that effort.”
Trade unionists in Colombia are frequent targets of violence, and the country has a 95% impunity rate for unionist killings, according to the Colombian National Union of Food Workers (SINALTRAINAL).
Between 2010 and 2012, 85 trade unionists have been killed, despite Labor Action Plan promises to tackle the violence. The finalization of the FTA despite ongoing threats to labor rights organizers has met with fierce criticism from both Colombian and U.S. unions.
The agreement has caused Colombian labor activists to question U.S. commitment to human rights.