The lobby firm Weber Shandwick has come under fire for taking on a contract for the Colombian government.
This week’s Tribune reveals that the lobbyists, whose Chief Exec Colin Byrne used to work for Peter Mandelson, have taken on the PR contract. The controversy stems from the country’s appalling human rights record, which has seen 460 trade unionists murdered, according to ILO figures, in the four years of President Uribe’s first term of government.
The vast majority of abuses where the perpetrator was known were carried out by the paramilitaries or government/state officials according to the ICFTU. There are still strong links between the Colombian armed forces and paramilitaries according to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, and the United Nations office for human rights.
Weber Shandwick, whose staff include Labour blogger Luke Akehurst, said that their contract was mostly related to a website, Shared Responsibility. In a statement to Tribune they claimed that this was “to promote dialogue, ideas and experience of how best to combat cocaine production, trafficking and abuse.” However, the site itself lists issues such as “armed violence, kidnapping, terrorism” within its remit. It was unclear from the statement what other UK lobbying they have done for the Colombian Government.
The issue of Colombia has been a controversial one in the UK as almost 200 Labour MPs, more than half of the Parliamentary Labour Party, have signed up to a motion condemning Colombia’s human rights abuses and calling for a freeze on the UK’s military aid to the country.