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Quito, Equador – January 21, 2016 – UFCW Canada leaders recently took part in an international solidarity exchange in Ecuador, meeting with labour leaders, members from Ecuador's indigenous communities, and government and non-profit sector activists.
The exchange saw leaders from Ecuador's newly-formed United Workers Trade Union Federation (CUT) meet with UFCW Canada leaders, including National President Paul Meinema, to discuss the current state of the labour movement in both Canada and Ecuador. Participants also exchanged information and experiences regarding different immigration and temporary foreign worker programs in each country. The CUT is Ecuador's central labour body.
As part of the exchange, President Meinema met with Ecuadorian government officials from the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the plight of migrant workers in Canada, as well as the need to fight for the rights and protections of migrant workers across the globe.
Over 400,000 workers from around the world come to Canada each year to work temporarily. UFCW Canada has a longstanding history championing the fight for migrant workers' rights. Along with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), UFCW Canada operates numerous agriculture workers support centres across the country, and produces a yearly report on the status of migrant farm workers in Canada.
"The experience was very educational and informative, and the opportunity to exchange best labour practices has been invaluable," says UFCW Canada National President Paul Meinema. "The struggle for migrant and temporary workers' rights is a global struggle and it is integral for us to unite beyond borders to fight injustices against these workers," he adds.
The UFCW Canada delegation also witnessed firsthand the environmental devastation left behind after one of the largest crude oil spills ever recorded in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The devastation – which is one of the largest human-inflicted environmental disasters in history – was the result of a Chevron subsidiary dumping approximately 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater directly into the ecosystem of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador between 1964 and 1990. The disaster has been dubbed the "Chernobyl of the Amazon" – with pollution levels 30 times higher than the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska – and has resulted in high rates of miscarriages, birth defects, and cancer among Ecuadorians.
Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Ecuadorian communities affected by Chevron's contamination of the Amazon region can legally pursue the company's assets in Canada, and can begin to collect the U.S. $9.5 billion dollar judgement granted to them by Ecuadorian courts in 2011.