Human Flower Project
Say ATPDEA with Flowers
The Colombian government has sent flowers to Capitol Hill to press for renewal of a favorable trade agreement. But abuses of workers rights can’t hide behind bouquets.
Rep. Sander Levin of the House Ways and Means Committee spoke against renewal of the Andean trade pact that favors Colombian and Ecuadorian flowers.
The government of Colombia delivered flowers to all members of the U.S. Congress Tuesday, lobbying for renewal of special trade status, the Wall St. Journal reports. The
Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which aimed to turn Colombian farmers away from drug production toward other industries and crops – like flowers – expired February 12. Without it, import duties will resume on a variety of Colombian products, from roses, to oil, to clothing.
The flowers came to Capitol Hill with a mildly threatening message attached:
To: Members of Congress From: Embassy of Colombia
Message: This Easter, Passover and Mother’s Day, the flowers you will send to the ones you love will cost more than in years past. Why? The Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) expired on February 12, 2011 and this is putting at risk hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S. and Colombia.
Please extend ATPDEA immediately.”
Thus far, Congressional reps – accustomed to bigger bang forms of lobbying, perhaps – have been only mildly impressed.
“We’re making very good progress,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk (D-TX) told Reuters. “We’re very encouraged with what we’ve heard from the Colombians thus far.”
But Sandy Levin (D-MI) had a less flowery statement on Tuesday. Levin, ranking Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has recently been on two fact-finding missions to South America.
“In Colombia, where violence against workers has occurred for decades, there were considerably fewer murders and less violence, but still the highest levels in the world,” Levin wrote.
“While there had been some progress in combating the wholesale impunity from punishment for crimes of violence, there had been limited progress even on the small number of cases that had been selected by consensus as key cases. For instance, as of July 2010, only three of the 42 union murders in 2008 had resulted in a conviction. The new Prosecutor General recently conceded, ‘the administrative disarray is terrible.’ Because there is no accountability, violence can persist.”
Among the abuses he witnessed, Levin reported: “I met a single mother working in the flower sector who had not been paid in two months and her benefits had not been paid for six months. She works for a family that owns a number of fields but incorporates each separately to inhibit a worker’s ability to associate and bargaining collectively. Three-quarters of the flowers picked by workers in Colombia are shipped to and bought here in America, and some of our domestic flower growers compete with Colombian companies.”
Levin concluded that while the “Santos administration is expressing a determination to address conditions affecting the role of workers and their basic rights,” major problems remain. Floral deliveries and Mothers Day gift prices aside, he opposes renewal of the Andean trade agreement until Colombia can guarantee that workers rights will be protected and lawbreakers will be prosecuted.