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US government says labor standards still violated by Latin American free trade partners

The labor protections written into trade deals with Latin America aren't being enforced, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

We're not surprised.

Teamsters said three years ago that a so-called trade deal with Colombia wouldn't end assassinations of trade unionists. Sadly, we were right.

Rallying against the murder of unionists.


Three years ago, proponents of the treaty to empower corporations in Colombia came up with something called a 'Labor Action Plan' (LAP). It was theoretically supposed to end anti-union violence. What it really did was give some lawmakers a fig leaf to let them vote for the treaty and pretend they care for workers' rights.

Violence against trade unionists is increasing in Colombia. There were four more unionist murders in 2013 than in 2012.

Now the GAO says labor protections aren't being enforced in Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli at the Washington Office on Latin America reviewed the GAO report and concluded:

A main part of the GAO’s assessment addressed compliance with the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan (LAP), whose implementation has been partial and incomplete

Many challenges remain with the LAP. The GAO noted that the U.S. agencies responsible for enforcing labor provisions, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), both reported that Colombia has “made meaningful progress” with certain aspects of the plan, such as the creation of institutions and changes in legislation, including the establishment of criminal penalties for efforts to undermine collective bargaining rights. Unfortunately, the enforcement of these actions remains a serious issue. 

The USTR admits that fines for labor abuses are not being collected, and that new forms of abusive contracting remain a problem as employers continue to find legal loopholes that allow them to avoid directly contracting workers. WOLA has received reports from unions and labor activists within the priority sectors of the LAP indicating that impunity remains the norm for labor killings, and that retaliation against unions and labor activists who attempt to defend their right to organize and collective bargain are rampant. 

Colombia’s Ministry of Labor has done little to deal with blatant anti-unionization efforts by employers in the sugar, ports, oil palm, and energy sectors, and to address the mass firing and other reprisals against workers who organize. Further, the Ministry has done little to tackle racial discrimination and specific concerns faced by Afro-Colombian workers. 

In examining the situation in selected countries with trade agreements, the GAO identified another major concern. Key players in partner countries, such as labor unions, have not filed complaints when their rights were violated due to a lack of understanding on how to do so. Since 2008, the DOL has only received four formal complaints alleging violations of FTA Labor Provisions in Latin American countries. Compounding the problem, the GAO found that DOL exceeded its timeframe for investigating and reporting on these claims by an average of almost nine months, prolonging negative labor conditions for workers. Only one of the four complaints has been resolved.

Reason enough to oppose the new 'trade deals' coming down the pike.

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