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US Government Further Investigates into Forced Labour Allegations in Central Romana’s Sugar Production

Sugarcane worker

We wanted to share some new developments in the scrutiny on Central Romana’s sugar production in Dominican Republic!

As we informed you in a previous post, in November 2022, sugar imports in the US coming from Central Romana were blocked from the US Customs and Border Protection after highlighted evidence of forced labour in the sugarcane plantations. Dominicans for Justice and Peace has played an important role in providing the US Government and journalists, including from The Washington Post and Reveal/Mother Jones, first-hand information about those harsh working conditions.

The work in Central Romana sugar plantation is “the closest thing I’ve ever seen to modern slavery.” Congressman Dan Kildee (No Big Sugar Campaign, Oct. 2023)

According to an investigation published recently by Reveal/Mother Jones, law enforcement officers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (HSI) came back to Dominican Republic last March to discretely interview Haitian workers. It was observed that Central Romana, instead of remediating the abusive labour conditions, is pursuing a political escape. The investigation reveals that the company has hired a legal firm and paid a former U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic to lobby in Washington to lift the ban. Reveal/Mother Jones also released a letter from Fanjul (Central Romana CEO) to Christopher Dodd, State Department special presidential adviser for the Americas, in which he expresses being “terribly upset” by forced labour allegations and seeks assistance from Mr. Dodd in “requesting (Customs and Border Protection) to lift its sanctions on our company.”

“Chris, we have been friends for a long time,” wrote Fanjul. “I am a man of honor. … I would never allow my company to treat our workers in ways that would deserve the treatment we have received from CBP.” (as quoted in Reveal, 2023).

So far, the HSI hasn’t yet confirmed the existence of an ongoing investigation. Federal statutes empower HSI to conduct and coordinate criminal investigations when there are allegations of forced labour in US supply chain. If an HSI investigation was taking place, “[i]t could […] represent a breakthrough in the application of U.S. laws allowing corporations and their executives to be held criminally accountable for labour exploitation in their supply chains.” (Reveal/Mother Jones, 2023)

In May 2024, the human rights record of the Government of Dominican Republic will be examined through the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This will be an excellent opportunity for civil society to increase pressure on the Government to address human rights violations taking place in the sugar industry. In this context, Dominicans for Justice and Peace has submitted a report on this crucial issue to the UN in October 2023. Additionally, the organisation is gearing up to organise robust advocacy actions at the upcoming UPR.

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If you want to contribute to the important work of Dominicans for Justice and Peace in supporting the fight of local partners in Dominican Republic, please visit our website.

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