SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.S. government announced Wednesday that it will withhold all imports of sugar and related products made in the Dominican Republic by Central Romana Corporation, Ltd. amid allegations that he used 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 release.
“Manufacturers like Central Romana who violate our laws will face consequences as we root these inhumane practices out of U.S. supply chains,” said AnnMarie Highsmith of the CBP Bureau of Commerce.
A company spokeswoman did not immediately return a text message seeking comment. Central Romana, which has long faced such charges, is the Dominican Republic’s largest sugar producer in an industry that exports more than $100 million worth of product to the United States each year.
One of Central Romana’s owners is Florida-based Fanjul Corp.
The announcement was cheered by activists who have long spoken out against the treatment of tens of thousands of workers who live and work in vast sugar cane fields, many of whom are Haitian migrants or their descendants.
“This is necessary to improve their situation,” said Roudy Joseph, a workers’ rights activist in the Dominican Republic, in a telephone interview. “We have been calling for improvements for decades.
Last year, The Associated Press visited several sugar cane fields owned by Central Romana where workers complained of a lack of pay, being forced to live in cramped quarters that lacked water and rules restrictive, including not being allowed to cultivate a garden to feed their families since 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 contributions but which were suspended by Dominican President Luis Abinader.
Sugar cane workers have also staged several protests this year to demand permanent residencies after working for decades in the Dominican Republic, which is now crack down on Haitian migrants under Abinader in a move that drew strong international criticism.
Central Romana produced nearly 400,000 tons (363,000 metric tons) of sugar during the harvest period that ended last year after crushing 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 children or through forced labor. The US State Department also cited the Dominican Republic in its report on human trafficking.
A group of U.S. lawmakers who visited 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 ordered to keep quiet and not tell 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 permeate the industry, where company supervisors, armed guards and an unrepresentative union monitors workers both in the fields and in the bateyes.
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