American authorities cite forced labour concerns
The United States has blocked the importation of sugar produced in the Dominican Republic by that country’s top producer, Central Romana.
Central Romana is suspected to be involved in forced labour at its facilities, which prompted America’s blockage. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been instructed to detain Central Romana’s raw sugar and sugar-based products at all US ports of entry effective yesterday.
In ordering the blockade the CBP in a statement yesterday said the decision to ban Central Romana’ sugar is “based on information that reasonably indicates the use of forced labor in its operations”.
The statement said the “CBP identified five of the International Labour Organization’s 11 indicators of forced labor during its investigation: abuse of vulnerability, isolation, withholding of wages, abusive working and living conditions, and excessive overtime”.
Central Romana fired back
However, in its response, Central Romana fired back, saying the move was cause for “great concern” in a statement published on Twitter.
According to the company, “the rationale behind this measure does not reflect the policies and practices of Central Romana”.
Central Romana argued that it has spent “millions” to improve living and working conditions, “guaranteeing living wages and increased benefits” and “offering educational and training programmes”.
The company, which started operating in 1912, also works in a number of different industries, including real estate; airport and port operations and meat and dairy production, according to the company website.
US authorities have been investigating labour issues in the Dominican Republic’s sugar industry for a number of years. The US Department of Labor said in a statement published September 13 that “while the country’s (Dom Rep) Ministry of Labor and sugar companies have made important progress, concerns remain about dangerous working conditions, verification of pay and hours, unsuitable living conditions, workers’ precarious legal status and other potential labor rights abuses”.
The Labor Department also added sugarcane from the Dominican Republic to its List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor that month.
Wednesday’s order “demonstrates CBP’s commitment to protect human rights and international labor standards and to promote a fair and competitive global marketplace,” said CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller in the CBP release.
The Caribbean nation’s sugar industry has traditionally relied on workers from neighbouring Haiti. In recent years the Dominican Republic has stepped up efforts to expel undocumented Haitian migrants amid rising xenophobia.