U.S. government takes action on Dominican sugar firm accused of using forced labor

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The US government announced Wednesday that it will stop all imports of sugar and related products into the Dominican Republic by Central Romana Corporation, Ltd. amid accusations that it uses forced labor.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection investigation found the company allegedly isolated workers, withheld wages, fostered abusive working and living conditions and pushed for excessive overtime, the agency said in a statement. press.

“Manufacturers like Central Romana who break our laws will face consequences as we remove these inhumane practices from US supply chains,” said AnnMarie Highsmith of CBP’s Office of Trade.

A company spokeswoman did not immediately return a text message seeking comment. Central Romana, which has long faced such accusations, is the Dominican Republic’s largest sugar producer in an industry that exports more than $100 million worth of product to the US each year.

One of the owners of Central Romana is Florida-based Fanjul Corp.

The ad was hailed by activists who have long denounced the treatment of tens of thousands of workers who live and work in sprawling sugarcane fields, many of them Haitian immigrants or their descendants.

“This is necessary to improve their situation,” Roudy Joseph, a labor rights activist in the Dominican Republic, said in a telephone interview. “We have been asking for improvements for decades.”

The Associated Press last year visited several sugarcane fields owned by Central Romana where workers complained about low wages, being forced to live in overcrowded housing without running water and restrictive rules that included not allowing them to cultivate a garden. to feed their families from transportation to the nearest grocery store miles away was too expensive.

Joseph noted that at least 6,000 workers are also claiming pensions for which they paid installments but which were suspended by Dominican President Luis Abinader.

Sugarcane workers have also organized several protests this year to demand permanent residences after working for decades in the Dominican Republic, which is now repression of Haitian immigrants under Abinader in a move that has generated strong international criticism.

Central Romana produced some 400,000 tons (363,000 metric tons) of sugar in the harvest period that ended last year after grinding more than 3.4 million tons (3 million metric tons) of cane, according to the company.

Wednesday’s announcement comes after the US Department of Labor placed sugarcane from the Dominican Republic on its list of products produced by children or forced labor in September. The US Department of State has also cited the Dominican Republic in its report on human trafficking.

A group of US lawmakers who visited the country issued a statement in July saying the workers lived in settlements, or bateyes, “in harsh and substandard conditions” and that some “described being ordered to remain silent and not speak to anyone about their conditions before our visit.”

The congressional delegation also noted that Central Romana had begun to make improvements, but that “despite this, a culture of fear seems to pervade the industry, where company supervisors, armed guards and officials from an unrepresentative union monitor workers. the workers both in the fields and in the bateyes”.

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