Across the nation’s capital, business lobbyists are working furiously to hash out the details of a new trade agreement with Colombia. Tentatively known as the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the deal was approved by the Colombian Congress in 2007 and has awaited U.S. ratification since then.
While business groups have lobbied heavily in favor of the agreement, a number of human rights and labor groups have opposed it, saying that Colombia has failed to make needed progress on human and labor rights standards and that the agreement may further undermine these rules and regulations.
Over at ChamberPost, John Murphy, the Vice President of International Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, makes the argument that violence in Colombia has subsided and that it’s actually much more unsafe to be an American citizen than a Colombian union member:
Today, homicide rates are higher in the United States (5.0 per 100,000) than among Colombia’s labor union members (3.4 per 100,000). A resident of the District of Columbia is seven times more likely to be murdered than a Colombian labor union member. The allegation that labor union members are being targeted for assassination today comes from U.S. labor unions, not Colombians.
At the Huffington Post, Gary Shapiro, the president of the Consumer Electronics Association, makes a similar argument, saying, “Colombian union leaders visiting Washington this week are in more danger here than in their home country.” Shapiro then went on to point out in the comments that Murphy wrote an additional post mocking the AFL-CIO labor union for using a 13-year-old picture of a union member’s assassination to talk about violence against labor — with the suggestion that declining violence means that such scenes are not nearly as pressing.
Shaprio and Murphy’s statistics are deceptive. Victims of homicide are largely victims who aren’t targeted specifically due to occupation, while union members are being targeted specifically for their labor activism. Furthermore, both men leave out a crucial fact: Colombia is still the most dangerous place in the world to be in a labor union.
In fact, according to data from the International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights, Colombia had 49 assassinations of labor officials in 2010 — more than the entire rest of the world combined (41 deaths were recorded elsewhere in the world in 2010). ThinkProgress has assembled the following graph comparing killings of trade unionists in Colombia with several other developing countries:
As you can see, Colombia easily leads the world in killings of union members. It is simply disingenuous to factor in other forms of killings — like common homicide — to absurdly claim that Colombian trade unionists are safe. After all, if Shapiro and Murphy decided to compare the murders of trade unionists between Colombia and the United States, the numbers would look completely different, because there were no assassinations of trade unionists of the United States last year.