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Colombia Must Protect All Workers

Photo of Santos from a previous visit courtesy CAP on Flickr

The government of Colombia continues to allow employers to undermine workers' rights and fails to effectively inspect and prosecute alleged violations of labor laws. Violence against trade unionists often occurs without any effective government response.

President Barack Obama will have an important opportunity to raise these concerns during Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ visit to Washington, D.C., this week. In unison with our partners in Colombia, the AFL-CIO supports the peace negotiations and again stresses that worker and human rights issues must be addressed to build a lasting and sustainable peace inclusive of the interests of all workers, Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities.

Any sustainable solution to the crisis in Colombia must include respect for workers' rights, access to decent work and a commitment to shared prosperity. Real change requires a change in commitment and practices: the U.S. and Colombian governments must stop looking the other way when employers violate the law. We have shared these priorities with the current administration.

The armed conflict has been used by the Colombian government for decades to systematically deny basic labor and human rights. Since 2000, more than 1,100 trade unionists have been murdered and another 5,000 have received death threats by paramilitary, government and armed guerilla forces for exercising fundamental labor rights. Despite the commitments of the 2011 Labor Action Plan to increase legal protections for organizing and collective bargaining and to bolster formal work, little progress has been made. This is yet another example of trade agreements failing to live up to their promises for workers.

Years after Plan Colombia went into effect, the government of Colombia refuses to investigate violence against labor activists, allows employers to deny labor rights and neglects to inspect, much less prosecute, alleged violations of labor laws. Yet, the U.S. Trade Representative has not acted.

The AFL-CIO joins many civil society allies in calling on the U.S. government to fulfill its commitment to proactively monitor ongoing violations of the Labor Action Plan and broader human rights concerns. The U.S. government support must assist Colombia in building a sustained peace, inclusive of the needs of all Colombians. As presidents Santos and Obama meet this week, the AFL-CIO has communicated to the Obama administration our support for high-level engagement but also that cooperation between Colombia and the United States must address concerns that have been largely neglected over the 15 years of Plan Colombia.    

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