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What Colombia Can Teach Us About the TPP

In the past five years, 126 trade unionists have been assassinated in Colombia. This is in addition to 74 other murder attempts. Investigations have produced almost no indictments or convictions. Colombia continues to fail to formalize employment, to protect working people who want a voice on the job and to address vast inequality.

Nearly five years after the announcement of the Obama–Santos Labor Action Plan, Colombian workers have seen insufficient action and even fewer results. The 2011 agreement was used to convince members of Congress that workers' rights would be protected and respected in Colombia if the United States ratified it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Five years later, hiring workers through illegal forms of contracting is nearly 10% higher. Reforming the penal code to make labor repression a crime has not led to a single indictment or conviction, although workers have filed charges in hundreds of cases.

The United States gave Colombia trade benefits before it ever demonstrated meaningful implementation of its promises to protect working people. Once Colombia received those benefits, the modest progress it had been making plunged. Congress should take note of the failure of the plan to protect working families in Colombia as it considers the promises made about the TPP’s power to protect working people’s rights in countries like Malaysia and Vietnam.

While the AFL-CIO supports ongoing peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), peace will not be sustainable if concrete measures are not taken to defend working people in unions and promote decent work as defined by the International Labor Organization standards.