Study explores human rights issues and Canada’s free trade with Colombia
James Rochlin is getting a first-hand look at how human rights are affected by the free-trade pact signed by Canada and Colombia in 2011. The agreement was established despite opposition from many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in both countries due to what Rochlin describes as horrific human rights abuses of Colombian workers.
Rochlin, a professor of political science with the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences at UBC’s Okanagan campus, has been awarded a $200,000 Partnership Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for his project called Human Security and the Colombia-Canada Free Trade Agreement.
He will lead a team of nine researchers from Canadian and Colombian universities, as well as researchers from Colombian non-governmental organizations. Among the collaborators on the project is Barbara Sobol, a librarian and researcher at UBC’s Okanagan campus.
“The Partnership Development Grant is a new source of funding that has resulted from SSHRC’s recent restructuring aimed at producing world-class academic research with a focus on clear benefits for Canadians,” says Rochlin.
The three-year study focuses on how the free-trade agreement addresses such research questions as:
- What are the opportunities and limits of using side agreements to promote human rights in Colombia, and how can these be bolstered for greater success?
- How can these agreements promote human security Colombian workers and their communities, and simultaneously promote greater security for Canadian businesses investing there?
“It is noteworthy that 55 per cent of all assassinations of trade unionists in the world occurred in Colombia during the last five years, in addition to a series of well-documented human rights abuses such as death threats, kidnapping and forced displacements,” says Rochlin.
Rochlin says that the Canada-Colombia accord is the first free-trade agreement in the world to include annual Human Rights Impact Assessments, and also includes a labour side accord where abuse complaints can be formally registered.
The research focuses on petroleum and mining, which has become the corporate face of Canada in Latin American countries, Colombia in particular, says Rochlin.
“Canadian investment is very appreciated in Colombia. However, there have been some significant cases of alleged human rights abuses of Colombian workers on the part of Canadian countries,” says Rochlin.
“The situation is highly polarized between those who promote Canadian investment in South America’s extractive sector and those who oppose it due to human rights violations and ecocide,” Rochlin says.
“Given this context of extremes, these days it seems ‘radical’ to be moderate. We hope to help create a space in the middle, a win-win situation, whereby Canadian investment satisfies business interests and simultaneously spawns responsible development that promotes respect for human rights and environmental protection.”
The research is aimed at producing academic and social innovation. Rochlin expects to publish two scholarly books, several academic articles, as well as an education program on the context of human rights and human security in Colombia that will be provided to Canadian companies investing or wishing to invest in Colombia.
Other partners on the research project include: Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto; Instituto de Estudios Politicos, Universidad de Antioquia, Medelin; Universidad San Buenaventura, Cartagena; Comision Colombiana de Juristas, Bogota.
“I am enormously grateful to have had the support of SSHRC for five previous solo projects, and our team greatly appreciates SSHRC’s funding for this new project that promotes an enduring partnership between six organizations,” Rochlin says.
To find out more, visit the SSHRC news release: http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/news_room-salle_de_presse/press_releases-communiques/2012/pg-sp-eng.aspx