Sugar reports lead to House call for action

The Chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade has called for a “swift and thorough investigation” into the labor practices of large sugar producers in the Dominican Republic in response to reporting by Homelands’ Sandy Tolan and others.

In an October 25 press release, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) wrote that “Disturbing news reports have recently detailed appalling conditions under which sugarcane workers of Haitian-Dominican descent continue to live and labor to produce sugar in the Dominican Republic for U.S. consumption.”

The links direct readers to Tolan’s September 17 investigative article in Mother Jones and a separate investigation by Zoeann MurphyDebbie Cenziper, Will Fitzgibbon, Whitney Shefte, and Salwan Georges in The Washington Post.

Tolan worked with Haitian-Dominican journalist Euclides Cordero Nuel on “The High Human Cost of America’s Sugar Habit,” an in-depth report about conditions in the Dominican sugar industry, with a particular focus on Central Romana Corporation. The two also collaborated on “The Bitter Work Behind Sugar,” an hour-long episode of Reveal, the podcast and radio show produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The Post piece, which also focused on Central Romana, drew heavily on documents uncovered in the release of the Panama Papers, and details tax evasion strategies by the company’s owners and executives.

Tolan had returned to the Dominican Republic 30 years after filing a report for NPR with coproducer Alan Weisman about the near-slavery conditions on Dominican plantations, particularly for Haitian-born and Haitian-Dominican workers. The U.S. government has called for improvements in the past, and according to Tolan, conditions have improved somewhat. But housing, pay, contract terms, and other issues remain deeply problematical.