US bans sugar from largest producer in Dominican Republic

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Just as Americans are preparing their Christmas cakes, sugar imports from the Dominican Republic’s largest sugar producer will be blocked at all ports in the United States.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Wednesday that sugar and sugar-based products made by Central Romana Corporation will be immediately detained at ports of entry after an investigation by the agency found evidence of the use of forced labor in its operations. The investigation found evidence of poor working and living conditions, withheld wages, excessive overtime and other violations.

“Manufacturers like Central Romana, who fail to abide by our laws, will face the consequences if we eradicate these inhumane practices from U.S. supply chains,” AnnMarie Highsmith, executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Trade, said in a statement.

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“Central Romana Corporation is deeply disappointed by the decision of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to issue a withholding of release order regarding our company’s products,” Central Romana wrote in a statement to The Washington Post. “We vehemently disagree with the decision as we do not believe it reflects the facts about our company and the treatment of our employees.”

The company claims it has always provided appropriate wages, housing and other benefits.

Sugar prices are already more than 14 percent higher than a year ago, according to government data. Before the import ban in Central Romana, sugar supplies in the US had already declined due to lower sugar production and imports, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

That said, most U.S. food companies have already secured their sugar supplies for the year, so prices for pastries, cakes and other sugar-laden holiday treats are unlikely to immediately rise as a result of the ban.

“America’s commercial bakeries have already sourced or have contracts to purchase sugar well into 2023, so this shutdown is unlikely to have an effect on holiday baked goods production,” said Lee Sanders, a senior vice president of manufacturing. president of the American Bakers Association. “However, looking to the future, anything that disrupts a global commodity market could certainly drive already high prices even higher.”

The injunction against Central Romana is the latest action the United States has taken to address allegations of forced labor and others human rights violations in supply chains of imported goods, and Dominican sugar has long been in the sights of regulators. In September, the US Department of Labor identified sugar cane from the Dominican Republic his list of goods potential produced by child labor or forced labour.

“The agency will continue to set a high global standard by aggressively investigating allegations of forced labor in U.S. supply chains and keeping tainted merchandise out of the United States,” said Acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Troy A. Miller.

The International Labor Organization estimates that nearly 28 million workers worldwide suffer from forced labour. The federal statute prohibits the importation of merchandise produced by convict, bonded, or indentured labor, and the CBP detains shipments of goods suspected of being imported in violation of this statute.

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Central Romana, which exports more than $100 million worth of products to the United States annually, has long faced accusations of subjecting its workers to substandard wages and unsafe conditions. According to a 2021 Post survey, workers for Central Romana said they made about $125 a month cutting sugar cane, well below the country’s median monthly salary. The company denies the mistreatment of employees.

In a written statement to The Post in 2021, Central Romana said: “Like any corporate social responsibility company, we strive to make progress every year and continue to invest in all our processes, including health and industrial safety, labor aspects, environmental regulations and social programs for responsibility.”

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