Home Economy The US blocks sugar imports from the Dominican Republic, citing forced labor

The US blocks sugar imports from the Dominican Republic, citing forced labor

by SuperiorInvest

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced Wednesday it will block sugar shipments from Central Romana Corporation, a Dominican Republic company that makes sugar sold in the United States under the Domino, Florida Crystals and C&H brands and has long faced allegations of exposing its employees. to poor working conditions.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a so-called withholding order against the company “based on information that reasonably indicates the use of forced labor in its operations,” including inappropriate working and living conditions, excessive overtime, wage withholding and other violations. .

“Manufacturers like Central Romana who fail to comply with our laws will face consequences as we root out these inhumane practices from American supply chains,” AnnMarie R. Highsmith, executive assistant commissioner of the agency’s Office of Trade, said in a statement. .

Central Romana, which is the largest landowner and employer in the Dominican Republic, exports more than 200 million pounds of sugar to the United States annually. It is partly owned by the Fanjul family, an an influential force in US politics for decades key donors both Republicans and Democrats.

The measures have been the subject of intense debate on Capitol Hill, where profits from the sugar industry flow generous campaign contributions and lobbying expensesaccording to people familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The United States is the most important market for Dominican sugar, and the move could have a crippling effect on Central Rome, which alone produces about 59 percent of the Dominican Republic’s sugar. US Department of Agriculture.

It could also cause significant disruption to US sugar imports in the near term, although economists said the impact on sugar prices, which are heavily influenced by regulation, remains to be seen. These regulations include price supports that keep US sugar prices well above those on world markets preferential tariff rates for sugar imported from the Dominican Republic.

Charity Ryerson, executive director of the Corporate Accountability Lab, a human rights organization based in Chicago, said the restrictions will be a strong impetus for Central Romana to improve conditions for its workers.

“Central Romana has been on notice for years, but has failed to respect even the most basic labor and human rights in its operations,” she said. “From now on, we have a really significant opportunity for CBP, Central Romana and civil society to work harder to ensure that workers are free, treated fairly, and forced labor never happens again on these farms.”

The Dominican sugar industry was the subject of scrutiny for decades for poor work practices. Media news and human rights groups they said Central Romana wields enormous power over its workers, many of whom are Haitian migrants and some of whom lack citizenship.

Many workers live in dilapidated houses without running water or electricity, civil society groups say. The company was too accused of forcibly evicting families from their homes in the Dominican Republic and employ forces masked and armed guards which intimidate workers.

Central Romana could not immediately be reached for comment. American Sugar Refining and its owner Florida Crystals Corporation, which are affiliates, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Central Romana has publicly defended his practices and said it offers some of the best working conditions in the business. A congressional delegation that visited the Dominican Republic this summer and met with workers he said that the country has made progress in addressing some of the worst abuses, including child labor and human trafficking.

But the delegation still he found the evidence that forced labor persists on sugar cane farms. Sugar cane cutters faced “difficult working and living conditions” and “a culture of fear seems to permeate the industry,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, and Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Michigan, said in a statement.

The Fanjul family, Cuban exiles who established sugarcane farms in Florida and acquired a Dominican Republic company in the 1980s, have been a powerful force in American politics for decades and are known for their ties to The Bush family, The Clintons and Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, among others.

They are part owners of American Sugar Refining, the world’s largest sugar refiner, which processes sugar from the Dominican Republic at its US facilities and sells to companies including Hershey.

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