Ways and Means Trade Leaders Reflect on Congressional Delegation to Dominican Republic

Jul 19, 2022
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC—Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI), Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Caucus and co-Chair of the House Sugar Caucus, released the following statement reflecting on their recent congressional delegation to the Dominican Republic:  

“Over ten years ago, a labor complaint under the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) asked the United States government to investigate allegations of forced labor in the Dominican sugar industry. Earlier this month, we met with workers and officials in the Dominican Republic to better understand this vexing issue that has been ongoing for decades. Important progress has been made to address child labor and reduce human trafficking. However, our observations and conversations with people on the ground confirmed official reports and recent news investigations that indicators of forced labor persist.

“We saw the arduous working and living conditions that sugarcane cutters endure to produce sugar for our consumption. They live with their families in company-provided housing settlements, called ‘bateyes’, under harsh and substandard conditions. Even Central Romana, the Dominican Republic’s largest producer of sugar, who began some upgrades, recognized their facilities need much further improvement.

“Despite this, a culture of fear appears to permeate the industry, where company supervisors, armed guards, and officials from an unrepresentative union monitor workers both in the fields and in the bateyes. Some workers described being directed to stay quiet and not speak to anyone about their conditions before our visit. Such harassment and intimidation are wholly unacceptable and confirm the need for immediate action.

Mr. Blumenauer and Mr. Kildee speaking with Dominican workers

“The industry relies predominantly on workers of Haitian descent, who lack basic protections and access to temporary work permits or any kind of regularized or legal status. Some of these workers are also part of the more than 135,000 estimated stateless people nationwide. Without legal status, workers will remain highly vulnerable to abuses and forced labor. Now is the time for companies to be accountable to their workers and join government officials to remedy their status and finally end the risk of forced labor.

“Together with the Biden Administration, we must strengthen the longstanding ties between the U.S. and Dominican Republic to set the industry on the right track. We stand with these workers and the Dominican officials trying to protect rights for workers, especially those of Haitian descent. Improving labor standards in our trade partner countries helps raise standards for American workers, too. From our meeting with President Abinader’s administration, it recognizes that the economy will not progress until all workers have basic rights and protections on the job and in their communities, and his commitment to reform was evident in our meeting. Furthermore, we commend the Government of the Dominican Republic’s steps to fight corruption and strengthen its economy. As we saw in the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement, when the leadership of partner governments are motivated, ambitious reform is possible, and we can achieve success for workers, employers, and our respective economies.

“This trip has reaffirmed the importance of worker-centered trade policies that benefit and better peoples’ daily lives.”