Lawmakers call for investigation into Dominican Republic’s sugar industry

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are calling on the Biden administration to investigate the mistreatment of sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic, saying “inhumane conditions” must not be tolerated in the U.S. supply chain .

In a joint statement, 15 members of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade said recent media reports had raised concerns about continued abuses in the industry eight years after a Labor Department investigation found evidence of low wages, child labor, and substandard housing and medical care. .

Subscribe to The Post Most newsletter for the biggest and most interesting stories from The Washington Post.

“These are desperately poor people, and there’s an industry out there that’s ready to exploit them,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who chairs the subcommittee, said in an interview last week. “It’s really appalling that it hasn’t been resolved. … It’s been a bipartisan failure.”

Lawmakers cited an investigation by the Washington Post and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that described how the family of the late former chairman of one of the Dominican Republic’s largest sugar companies turned to South Dakota in 2019 to finalize four new trusts. The trusts contained shares of the Central Romana sugar company and personal assets worth $14 million.

The stories were published as part of the Pandora Papers, an international investigation based on nearly 11.9 million financial documents that documented how the rich and powerful secretly move money around the world.

The Romana center has been accused for years of exploiting workers and forcibly evicting families from their homes. In an overnight raid in 2016, the company demolished makeshift shacks built by 60 poor families living without electricity or running water along the fields of Central Romana.

In an earlier statement to The Post and ICIJ, the company said it has created more than 20,000 jobs and built more than 5,000 homes. The company said it was working closely with a union to settle wages and working conditions and denied illegally evicting the families, saying the company had defended its property against “unlawful invasion of land “.

Blumenauer and the other lawmakers also cited a September article by Mother Jones, published with the Center for Investigative Reporting, which described allegations of chronic debt, low wages and unsafe working conditions among Central Romana workers.

In their joint statement, lawmakers did not identify any company by name. Blumenauer said the committee would seek to work with Katherine Tai, the U.S. Trade Representative and Biden cabinet member who is the top adviser and negotiator on U.S. trade policy. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

Contacted earlier this week, Central Romana said some members of the House subcommittee “have always been against the US sugar program” and that media reports of forced labor are “based on false accusations.”

Andrew Samet, a spokesman for the Dominican sugar industry, said in an email that the companies “welcome a new engagement between the Biden administration and the Dominican government.”

The companies “have been transparently and publicly reporting on working conditions in the sector for almost a decade,” Samet said, adding that “allegations of trafficking, forced labor and child labor against them are unfounded” and play no role in “private sector operations”. businesses in 2021.”

Advocates for Dominican families and sugar workers have said an investigation is badly needed. “This is a clear message to companies that they cannot violate human rights and export their sugar to the United States with impunity,” said Laurence Blattmer, coordinator of the Dominicans for Justice and Peace program. peace, based in Geneva, which works with evicted families.

The push by Blumenauer’s committee is the third call to action in Congress in the weeks following the Pandora Papers.

Earlier this month, the chairs of three congressional committees cited the Pandora Papers investigation in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, which called for the swift implementation of legislation , enacted this year, requiring LLCs to disclose their owners to a federal database.

“The value and urgency of these efforts is reinforced by the revelations of wrongdoing stemming from the latest financial document leak, the Pandora Papers,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D. -Ohio, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, DN.Y.

Last month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed the most sweeping changes to anti-money laundering laws since 9/11, calling for tougher requirements for trust companies, law firms, money art and other so-called facilitators who provide services to foreign customers.

Outside the United States, members of the European Parliament – citing the Pandora Papers – approved a resolution criticizing South Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming, Delaware and Nevada for being “centers of financial secrecy and ‘business”.

– – –

Fitzgibbon is a journalist at the ICIJ.

Related Content

What the youngest Taliban fighters tell us about the future of the movement

The Pentagon’s three-year, $82 million robot competition begs the question: How long before humans are obsolete?

The Unclaimed Soldier

Rachel J. Bradford