WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
26 Mar 2012 |

Violence, Threats, and Attacks Aim to Undermine SINALTRAINAL for Defending Labor Rights

Dear Members of the United States Congress,

We value the commitment of the Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights in Colombia (CMGLR) to promote the respect for labor rights in Colombia. While we welcome the creation of the Labor Action Plan (LAP) between the U.S. and Colombia, we report that the LAP has not met its goals. In Colombia, huge obstacles remain to ensuring basic labor rights and direct contracts. Six trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia in 2012 alone. Efforts to dismantle and impede the formation of trade unions remain strong. Trade unions and labor organizers operate in an environment where they are routinely threatened and attacked.  

SINALTRAINAL is the national food and beverage trade union in Colombia representing 3,100 workers. In thirty years, SINALTRAINAL members have fallen victim to systematic persecution—24 killed, 2 disappeared, 14 imprisoned, 80 death threats, 49 displaced, 6 exiled, and several more have been attacked. The political persecution of SINALTRAINAL has included efforts to discredit the union and campaigns to terrorize its members. Impunity in these cases is the norm.

Despite international efforts to protect members of SINALTRAINAL, affiliates are still routinely threatened, attacked, and murdered. On November 9, 2011, paramilitaries attacked the family of SINALTRAINAL Executive Committee Member Juan Carlos Galvis. Two paramilitaries, covered by closed motorcycle helmets, broke into Juan Carlos’ home in Barrancabermeja and assaulted his wife and children. One paramilitary pointed a gun at Mr. Galvis’ daughter, who suffers from Down’s syndrome, and threatened to kill her if his wife screamed. They bound and gagged another child along with his wife and proceeded to spray paint her face, hair and clothing red. The men stole two computers and memory drives. On December 9, 2011, the murdered body of another SINALTRAINAL member, John Fredy Carmona Bermúdez, was found in the Aragon de San Antonio neighborhood of Medellin. The Colombian government’s response to these attacks is inadequate.

Given the lack of guarantees in Colombia’s judicial system, SINALTRAINAL has been forced to present cases of labor rights abuses before international courts. In 2001, SINALTRAINAL sued the Coca Cola Company for the murder of Isidro Segundo Gil (Carepa), the kidnapping of Jorge Leal (Cucutá), an assassination attempt against Juan Carlos Galvis (Barrancabermeja), and the torture of five workers in Bucaramanga. In 2012, SINALTRAINAL brought a case against Nestle in Zug, Switzerland for the 2005 assassination of the union leader Luciano Enrique Romero Molina. SINALTRAINAL has also presented cases of labor rights violations before the International Labor Organization (ILO) against Sodexo, Kraft Foods, Saceites, and in the sugar industry.

SINALTRAINAL has also supported efforts to establish direct contracts for workers. Labor intermediation continues to violate workers’ basic labor rights. There is a growing tendency for companies to lay off workers and replace them with subcontracted labor. Despite the Colombian government’s stated commitment to address abusive sub-contracting practices by Associative Labor Cooperatives (CTAs) in the Labor Action Plan, the model continues to function as the primary form of employment in many sectors of the economy. SINALTRAINAL affiliates attempting to establish direct contracts have received threats and been stigmatized as problematic by other companies, making it impossible for them to find other work.

We ask that the Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights highlight that:

  • Companies in Colombian are not recognizing unions or respecting Colombian laws.
  • Colombian authorities are not prosecuting companies that refuse to comply with labor laws, violate human rights, and benefit from crimes against humanity.
  • The Colombian government is not providing effective protection measures for trade unionists. The Attorney General’s Office is not fully investigating and bringing to justice cases of murders, threats, attacks, abductions, disappearances of trade unionists and labor organizers affiliated with SINALTRAINAL.
  • Workers do not yet have direct contracts with companies. Efforts to end labor intermediation should not be limited to CTAs as many of sub-contractors are using the same model with a different name.

Congress should not allow for implementation of the FTA until the Labor Action Plan is successful in ending the violence against trade unionists and labor intermediation is ended and the right to labor organizing is fully protected.  



Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)