WASHINGTON – Deputy Undersecretary of Labor for International Affairs Thea Lee visited Colombia from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 to promote workers’ rights and protections, and to meet with Colombia’s labor and trade officials in the new Gustavo Petro administration and discuss progress on labor commitments under the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.
In discussions with Colombian Labor Vice-Minister Edwin Palma and the Ministry of Trade’s Director of Trade Relations Angela Ospina, Deputy Undersecretary Lee stressed the importance of the bilateral relationship and the Biden-Harris administration’s strong emphasis on labor rights under the trade engagement. Colombian leaders pledged to strengthen the country’s capacity to enforce labor laws and to collect fines for labor violations promptly.
Deputy Undersecretary Lee also focused on the need to protect workers’ rights in priority sectors – palm oil, sugar, mining, ports and cut flowers – identified in Colombia’s plan to address its longstanding labor challenges. Lee sought to increase the visibility of the department’s efforts to empower workers – particularly workers traditionally vulnerable to labor rights violations and poor working conditions, including women, Afro-Colombians and informal workers – and to strengthen the labor movement in the priority sectors.
Coinciding with the trip, the department announced the award of a worker empowerment project in the region, an important part of the department’s investments associated with the M-POWER initiative to promote the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining around the world.
“The Biden-Harris administration is centering workers in our trade policy development, implementation and enforcement actions,” said Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs Thea Lee. “We will keep pressing for continued, sustained progress in addressing critical labor rights issues to advance compliance with the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.”
During the visit, Lee also met with labor leaders to discuss the worker rights landscape, working conditions in Labor Action Plan priority sectors, challenges to workers exercising their rights, and solutions to these challenges. The Deputy Undersecretary also visited the Vamos Tejiendo project, a department-funded initiative that supports female workers in the cut-flowers sector, hearing directly from workers and learning about the project’s engagement with Sunshine Bouquet, a U.S. flower company.