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Letter to Ron Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative and Hilda Solis, Labor Secretary

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today led a group of 19 senators in asking the Obama Administration to ensure that Colombia makes meaningful progress on labor rights as outlined in the Colombian Labor Action Plan. The Colombian Labor Action Plan was agreed to in conjunction with the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which Congress passed this fall. In a letter sent to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Brown and the senators also requested that the Administration provide the Senate with quarterly reports on the Action plan, as well as written reports on violence in Colombia, particularly that directed at trade unionists and human rights activists.

"Ohio workers are free to collectively bargain without fear of violence, and workers abroad, especially in countries we have trade agreements, should be free to exercise their rights without fear of violence. Now that the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement has been signed, the Obama Administration must be vigilant and work to ensure the Colombian government lives up to commitments outlined in the Colombian Action Plan, and set a no-tolerance policy when it comes to labor-related threats and violence," Brown said. "This is an issue that requires a sustained effort on behalf of both the Colombian and American governments."

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has identified numerous ways in which Colombia's labor laws fall short of the core labor standards, the minimum set of rights to be guaranteed by all countries regardless of level of development. Colombia has made little progress passing the laws necessary to comply with these international norms. Between 1986 and 2010, 2,850 trade unionists were murdered, including 731 union leaders. Additionally, in Colombia, there were to 276 attempted murders, 218 forced disappearances, and at least 4,935 death threats against trade unionists because of union activity in that same time period.

Brown led the House opposition to the Dominican Republic -- Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005, falling just two votes shy of blocking the agreement after the vote was held open for nearly two hours. The author of the book Myths of Free Trade and described as "Congress' leading proponent of American manufacturing," Brown also stood up to President Clinton during debate of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.

In addition to Brown, the letter was signed by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Jon Tester (D-MT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Ambassador Kirk and Secretary Solis:

As Senators who voted both for and against the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, we are united in our commitment to ensuring that Colombia continues to make meaningful progress on labor rights, including the commitments and timelines announced in the Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights. We support the commitment outlined in the Action Plan "to protect internationally recognized labor rights, prevent violence against labor leaders, and prosecute perpetrators of such violence."

The Colombian government has taken important steps to help address Colombia's labor and human rights conditions including passing legislation to establish a Labor Ministry to provide better capacity to protect and institutionalize labor rights; expanding coverage of the union leaders' protection program and, in consultation with teachers' union representatives, strengthening the separate teacher protection program; and hiring and training the first 100 of 480 additional labor inspectors over the next four years as part of the commitment to mobilize resources and strengthen enforcement of a system to protect labor rights.

Yet there is more work to be done to protect labor rights in Colombia and to fully accomplish the objectives in the Action Plan. To that end, we request you provide the Senate with quarterly briefings on the Action Plan, as well as written reports on reduction or increases in violence, and threats of violence, against trade unionists and human rights activists; prosecutions of those accused of killing, or threatening to kill, labor and human rights activists; partnering with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to elevate its presence in Colombia in order to help implement the Labor Action Plan; and consultations with national union centers and non-governmental organizations.

We look forward to working with you both to ensure the Labor Action Plan is faithfully executed. Thank you for your leadership.

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