(Bloomberg) -- The US is halting imports from one of the Dominican Republic’s largest sugar producers amid allegations the company uses forced labor.
US Customs and Border Protection said in a statement it was issuing a “withhold release order” that will effectively block shipments of sugar and sugar-based products from Central Romana Corp, Ltd.
The agency said it was taking the action “based on information that reasonably indicates the use of forced labor in its operations,” citing reports that Central Romana was keeping workers isolated, withholding wages, requiring excessive overtime and subjecting them to abusive working and living conditions.
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“We disagree vehemently with the decision as we do not believe it reflects the facts about our company and the treatment of our employees,” Central Romana said in an emailed statement. The company also said it plans to engage with US officials to “work collaboratively to resolve this matter.”
Central Romana was purchased by the Fanjul Group, then led by Alfonso and J. Pepe Fanjul, in 1984, according to the company website. The Cuban-born family has sugar investments in the US, including Florida Crystals Corp., based in West Palm Beach. The company didn’t immediately return a call and an email seeking comment.
Central Romana, which has employed Haitian migrants as part of its workforce, has been criticized by human rights groups.
In July, a US congressional delegation warned of the use of forced labor in Dominican Republic sugar fields, in a report which named the company. In September, the US Department of Labor added Dominican sugarcane to its list of goods produced by child or forced Labor.
With Wednesday’s action, Customs and Border Patrol is now overseeing 55 withhold release orders worldwide. Central Romana is only the second company in the Western Hemisphere to be under an WRO, along with a Mexican tomato-exporter added to the list in 2021.
The Dominican Republic exported $113 million worth of raw sugar in 2020, according to the National Statistics Office, and the US is the largest market for Dominican sugar exports.
(Updates to add Central Romana statement in fourth paragraph.)
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