U.S. Blocks Dominican Republic Sugar Imports, Citing Forced Labor
Charity Ryerson, the executive director at Corporate Accountability Lab, a Chicago-based human rights organization, said the restrictions would be a powerful impetus for Central Romana to improve conditions for its workers.
“Central Romana has been on notice for years but has failed to comply with even the most basic of labor and human rights standards in their operation,” she said. “From this moment forward, we have a really significant opportunity for C.B.P., for Central Romana and civil society to work together to ensure that workers are free, they’re treated fairly and that forced labor never happens on these farms again.”
The Dominican sugar industry has been the subject of scrutiny for decades for its poor labor practices. Media reports and human rights groups have said Central Romana exerts tremendous power over its workers, many of whom are Haitian migrants and some of whom lack citizenship.
Many workers live in dilapidated housing without running water and electricity, according to civil society groups. The company has also been accused of forcibly evicting families from their homes in the Dominican Republic, and employing a force of masked and armed guards that intimidate workers.
Central Romana has publicly defended its practices and has said it offers among the best working conditions in the industry. A congressional delegation that visited the Dominican Republic and met with workers this summer said the country had made progress toward addressing some of the worst abuses, including child labor and human trafficking.
But the delegation still found evidence that forced labor was persisting on the sugar cane farms. Sugar cane cutters faced “arduous working and living conditions” and “a culture of fear appears to permeate the industry,” Representatives Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Dan Kildee of Michigan, both Democrats, said in a statement.
Members of the Fanjul family, Cuban exiles who started sugar cane farms in Florida and acquired the Dominican Republic company in the 1980s, have been a powerful force in American politics for decades, known for relationships with the Bush family, the Clintons and Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, among others.
They are part owners of American Sugar Refining, the world’s largest sugar refinery, which processes sugar from the Dominican Republic at its U.S. facilities and sells to companies including Hershey.