SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.S. government announced Wednesday that it will seize all imports of sugar and related products made into the Dominican Republic by Central Romana Corporation, Ltd., amid allegations that it uses forced labor.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection investigation found the company allegedly isolated workers, withheld wages, promoted abusive working and living conditions and pushed for excessive overtime, the agency said in a news release.
“Manufacturers like Central Romana who do not comply with our laws will face consequences as we remove these inhumane practices from US supply chains,” said AnnMarie Highsmith of CBP’s Bureau of Commerce.
Central Romana stated 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 the human rights and duties of our workers.” it was said.
Central Romana, which has long faced such accusations, is the largest sugar producer in the Dominican Republic in an industry that exports more than $100 million worth of products to the US each year.
One of the owners of Central Romana is Fanjul Corp, based in Florida.
The announcement was applauded by activists who have long condemned the treatment of tens of thousands of workers who live and work in the vast sugarcane fields, many of them Haitian migrants or their descendants.
“It’s necessary 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 of a lack of wages, forced to live in cramped housing with no water and restrictive rules, including not being allowed to growing a garden to feed their families from transporting to the nearest grocery store miles away was too expensive.
Joseph noted that at least 6,000 workers are also demanding pensions for which they paid contributions but were suspended by Dominican President Luis Abinader.
Sugar cane workers have also staged several protests this year to demand permanent residency after decades of working in the Dominican Republic, which is now cracking down on Haitian migrants under Abinader, in a move that has drawn international criticism strong.
Central Romana produced almost 400,000 tons (363,000 metric tons) of sugar during 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 in September placed sugar cane from the Dominican Republic on its list of goods produced by child or forced labor. The US State Department also cited the Dominican Republic in its report on human trafficking.
A group of US lawmakers visiting the country issued a statement in July saying workers were living in settlements, or bateyes, “in harsh and substandard conditions” and that some “described being directed to remain quiet and not speak to no one about their conditions before us. visit.”
The Congressional delegation also noted that Central Romana has begun to make improvements, but that “despite this, a culture of fear seems to permeate the industry, where company supervisors, armed guards and non-representative union officials monitor workers both on the ground, as well as in bateyes.”
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