Colombia Ignoring Assassination of Union Members, Groups Charge

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By Chris Opfer

May 17 — The Colombian government has refused to address anti-union violence, including assassinations, kidnappings and threats against labor organizers, the AFL-CIO and other groups alleged in a complaint filed May 16 with the Labor Department.

The unions asked the DOL's Bureau of International Affairs to investigate allegations that Colombia has failed to adopt and enforce laws protecting workers' right to organize. They said the South American country's government is violating the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.

The unions focused particularly on the oil and sugar industries, where they said rampant violence against union workers goes largely unchecked.

The complaint comes just one month after the DOL and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative highlighted new Colombian regulations aimed at beefing up worker protections (69 DLR A-14, 4/11/16).

Pacific Deal Wariness

Labor groups and some Democratic lawmakers who oppose the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement are already pointing to the Colombian deal as an example of the problems with what they say are weak labor protections.

They argue that the TPP will cost American workers their jobs, as businesses shift operations to trading partners with less extensive labor and employment laws.

“Despite our best intentions, the Colombia agreement shows that the current model does not help working people,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told reporters May 17. “Instead, what we are saying is that our trading partners should first comply with high labor standards before we lower tariffs and we confer all the benefits of the trade agreement on them.”

The 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal's supporters, including the White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have said the TPP will help counteract China's sway in the global marketplace.

Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue wrote in a blog post last month that the agreement will bolster the nation's economy, despite the possibility of some job losses.

“The answer to these problems is not to wall off our country, rip up trade agreements, or raise destructive tariffs,” Donohue wrote. “The answer is to recognize and help those negatively impacted by trade.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at

For More Information

Text of the complaint is available at