The Service Employees International Union, known as SEIU, sent President Obama a letter Wednesday urging him “to not implement the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement until the goals of the Labor Action Plan are met and labor rights are respected in Colombia.”
According to Colombia Reports, President Obama “is expected to announce that Colombia has met the labor rights conditions required for final approval of the [Free Trade Agreement] at the upcoming Summit of the Americas, despite ongoing violence against unionists in the country.”
Mary Kay Henry, the international president of SEIU who signed Wednesday’s letter, adds, “This is the moment when the U.S. — Colombia’s largest trading partner — can send a powerful message to Colombia’s government. If you certify the Labor Action Plan while workers still lack rights, there is little chance that conditions will improve.”
The letter adds:
- The Colombian government has not taken adequate steps to provide effective protection measures for trade unionists.
- Companies in Colombia are not recognizing unions or respecting Colombian laws.
- Colombian authorities are not prosecuting companies that refuse to comply with labor laws and violate human rights. (Read the full letter below.)
The inclusion in April 2011 of the Labor Action Plan, created to deal with anti-union violence in Colombia, was an important factor that led to approval of the trade agreement in October 2011.
Colombia Reports adds that “since January 2012, four union members have been killed across the country, while dozens were murdered in 2011- Colombian unions say 51, the government says 30.”
The murder of those Colombian union leaders in January prompted Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, to urge Obama to indefinitely postpone the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement. Colombian human rights advocates pointed out that 28 union members have been murdered since the Labor Action Plan was signed in April 2011.
According to Enterprise Florida, “Colombia, with $7.6 billion in merchandise trade for Florida in 2011, ranks third in terms of Florida trade.”
Enterprise Florida announced in February that Gov. Rick Scott will lead a trade mission to Colombia at the end of 2012.