The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and the Future of Peace and Prosperity in Colombia

The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and the Future of Peace and Prosperity in Colombia

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The United Steelworkers (USW) has been working closely with workers and communities in Colombia for many years, through relief, development and mutual aid. Our union continues to observe the conditions and challenges in Colombia through regular exchanges and delegations. 

As a labour organization, the killing of trade unionists and human rights defenders in any part of the world mobilizes us. For years, we have heard about assassinations and disappearances in Colombia. For that reason, our union got involved in the opposition to a free trade agreement with Colombia as far back as 2007. 

The USW has sent delegations to Colombia, which have included Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada, and representatives of our global union partners. Steelworkers Global Affairs Department staff Jorge Garcia-Orgales has also met with the Colombian government and FARC representatives in Cuba to discuss their progress and, more importantly, to support their efforts to end the war in Colombia. 

The USW is engaged in the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA) which brings together environmental and human rights NGOs, faith groups, labour unions, and researchers from across Canada, who are advocating for federal legislation to establish mandatory corporate accountability standards for Canadian extractive companies operating abroad, especially in developing countries. 

The lack of respect for the environment and culture, shocking working conditions, and the connection between Canadian companies and human rights violations in Colombia, were reasons that the USW became a member of the CNCA. The USW is the mining union in Canada and we know that responsible mining is possible. That is not what we have observed in Colombia. 

The USW is also an active participant in Common Frontiers, a multi-sectoral working group, which confronts and proposes an alternative to the social, environmental and economic effects of economic integration in the Americas. As a member of Common Frontiers, USW was involved in the request for an independent Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) long before the Canada-Colombia agreement was signed. 

Today, the USW is part of the Colombia Working Group, a coalition dedicated to educating Canadians about Colombian issues. We have helped to sponsor visits to Canada by Colombian human rights defenders, who continue to be subjected to death threats, illegal surveillance by the state and are forced to live in a de facto state of displacement because they have been targeted. 

We understand that, as part of the current process, the Colombia Working Group will be tabling its extensive and well-researched report “Colombia in the Shadow of Human Right Abuses”, which confirms that human rights violations have not abated in Colombia over the five years since the implementation of the Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement (CCOFTA). 

CCOFTA was presented as the ideal tool to improve human rights in Colombia based on two assumptions: first, that trade would bring prosperity; second, that the government of Colombia is committed to improving human rights. 

Our presentation will not repeat information provided by other sources, which demonstrate that these assumptions have proven to be largely false. This submission focuses on the opportunity the Canadian government has to improve the HRIA, and to review the CCOFTA with a view to facilitating the peace process in Colombia. 

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