AP

Dominican sugar imports tied to forced labor rejected by US

Nov 22, 2022, 4:30 PM | Updated: Nov 23, 2022, 9:08 am

FILE - A youth plays near the machine where the sugar cane is weighed in the Lima batey, or neighbo...

FILE - A youth plays near the machine where the sugar cane is weighed in the Lima batey, or neighborhood, in La Romana, where Central Romana Corporation, Ltd. operates its sugar operations in Dominican Republic, Nov. 17, 2021. The U.S. government announced Nov. 23, 2022 that it will detain all imports of sugar and related products made in the Dominican Republic by Central Romana Corporation, Ltd. amid allegations that it uses forced labor. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

(AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.S. government announced Wednesday that it will detain all imports of sugar and related products made in the Dominican Republic by Central Romana Corporation, Ltd. amid allegations that it uses forced labor.

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

“Manufacturers like Central Romana, who fail to abide by our laws, will face consequences as we root out these inhumane practices from U.S. supply chains,” said AnnMarie Highsmith with the CBP’s Office of Trade.

Central Romana said in a written response to The Associated Press that it received the news about the import ban with “great astonishment.”

“In recent decades we have invested millions of dollars to improve the working and living conditions of our employees in agricultural areas, guaranteeing decent wages and increased benefits, training and education workshops, as well as training in human rights and duties of our workers,” it said.

Central Romana, which has long faced those types of accusations, is the Dominican Republic’s largest sugar producer in an industry that exports more than $100 million worth of products to the U.S. every year.

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

The announcement was cheered by activists who have long decried the treatment of tens of thousands of workers who live and work on sprawling sugarcane fields, many of them Haitian migrants or descendants of them.

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

The Associated Press last year visited several sugarcane fields owned by Central Romana where workers complained about a lack of wages, being forced to live in cramped housing that lacked water and restrictive rules including not being allowed to grow a garden to feed their families since transportation to the nearest grocery store miles away was too costly.

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

Sugarcane workers also have organized several protests this year to demand permanent residencies after working for decades in the Dominican Republic, which is now cracking down on Haitian migrants under Abinader in a move that has drawn heavy international criticism.

Central Romana produced nearly 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 U.S. Department of Labor in September placed sugarcane from the Dominican Republic on its list of goods produced by children or via forced labor. The U.S. State Department also has cited the Dominican Republic in its report on human trafficking.

A group of U.S. legislators who visited the country issued a statement in July saying workers lived in settlements, or bateyes, “under harsh and substandard conditions” and that some “described being directed to stay quiet and not speak to anyone about their conditions before our visit.”

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

moore redmond washington...

Associated Press

U.S. Supreme Court rules against Redmond couple challenging foreign income tax

The court ruled in the case of Charles and Kathleen Moore, of Redmond, Washington after they previously challenged a $15,000 tax bill.

6 hours ago

Image:The New York Giants' Willie Mays poses for a photo during baseball spring training in 1972. M...

Associated Press

Willie Mays, Giants’ electrifying ‘Say Hey Kid,’ dies at 93

Willie Mays, whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest players, has died. He was 93.

2 days ago

Image: This photo provided by the Washington Department of Ecology shows a derailed BNSF train on t...

Associated Press

Judge orders BNSF to pay Washington tribe nearly $400M for trespassing with oil trains

BNSF Railway must pay the sum to a Native American tribe in Washington after it ran 100-car trains with crude oil on the tribe's reservation.

3 days ago

Photo: In this photo provided by Tieanna Joseph Cade, an amusement park ride is shown stuck with 30...

Associated Press

Crews rescue 28 people trapped upside down high on Oregon amusement park ride

Emergency crews in Oregon rescued 28 people after they were stuck dangling upside down high on a ride at a century-old amusement park.

3 days ago

juneteenth shooting texas...

Associated Press

2 killed and 6 wounded in shooting during a Juneteenth celebration in a Texas park

A shooting in a Texas park left two people dead and six wounded, including two children, on Saturday, authorities said.

4 days ago

Photo: Israeli soldiers drive a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, Wednesday, J...

Jack Jeffery, The Associated Press

8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza in deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months

An explosion in Gaza killed eight Israeli soldiers, the military said Saturday, making it the deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months.

5 days ago

Dominican sugar imports tied to forced labor rejected by US