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UK and Colombian trade unions call for UK-Andean agreement to be suspended until human and workers’ rights are respected and peace is implemented

The TUC, CUT and CTC collectively represent over 6 million workers in the UK and Colombia.  We stand together in calling for trade deals to enforce respect for fundamental labour and human rights.

We have consistently raised the need for the UK to use its leverage in trade negotiations to call for the Colombian government to address the serious breaches of human and labour rights being committed in the country and to fully implement the Peace Agreement signed in November 2016. 

Unfortunately in 2019 the UK signed a trade agreement with Colombia as well as Peru and Ecuador – the UK-Andean agreement – without making any such request. Furthermore, the agreement itself contains no mechanism trade unions can use to enforce respect for human and trade union rights.

The ITUC has rated Colombia one of the worst countries in the world for workers’ rights and documents 22 trade unionists murdered there in the last year. Over 1200 social leaders and human rights defenders (including trade union leaders) are estimated to have been murdered since the November 2016 peace agreement and there have been 116 leaders murdered so far in 2021.

These killings, as well as those of FARC former combatants  – 286 of whom have been murdered since signing up to the peace agreement -  undermine obligations the  Colombian government has to implement in full the 2016 Peace Agreement. The government is also failing to implement or resource crucial elements of the Agreement around rural development, political participation, reincorporation projects for former combatants and providing alternative economic opportunities to coca farmers.

We have concerns about the increasingly alarming anti-democratic and authoritarian behaviour of the government under President Duque, including attempts to undermine the transitional justice system set up by the peace agreement, a refusal to engage in proper dialogue with trade unions and violent repression of civil society protests.

We call for the UK to suspend the UK-Andean trade agreement until the Colombian government addresses these violations of human and trade union rights and implements in full the 2016 Peace Agreement.

Any trade deal involving the UK and Colombia should contain the following key elements:

  1. commitments to ratify and respect International Labour Organisation core conventions on labour rights, and fulfil the UN Sustainable Development Goals that are effectively enforceable – with penalties for violations and a role for trade unions in the enforcement process;
  2. commitments by the Colombian government to  implement in full the 2016 Peace Agreement in accordance with its national and international obligations;
  3. protections for the rights of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers– any agreement must allow migrant workers and asylum seekers to enforce their rights regardless of their immigration status;
  4. protections for the right of governments to use public procurement and state-owned enterprises to support economic development, improve working conditions and pursue social and environmental objectives;
  5. protections for all public services by completely excluding all public services such as health, education and transport -  opening public services up to global market forces will not benefit our communities who rely on universal, quality public services that must be run for public benefit, not private profit;
  6. protections for the right of governments to establish and maintain policies necessary to protect consumers and workers through data integrity, security and privacy measures, and prevent the misuse of data for any form of discrimination;
  7. protections for the right of governments to regulate the cross-border flow of data, require companies to have a local presence, access source code and algorithms and maintain privacy and consumer protections to protect public health and prevent discrimination;
  8. exclusions for all kinds of special courts for foreign investors such as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) or the Investment Court System (ICS), which allow foreign investors to sue governments for actions that threaten their profits;
  9. exclusions for extensions of patent protection or data exclusivity periods for pharmaceutical drugs;
  10. commitments for our governments to support and implement the Paris Agreement and policies to support Just Transition; and
  11. expansion of cooperation to combat unfair trade practices including strong antidumping and countervailing duty provisions, and prevent circumvention and evasion of action taken.
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