Dominican Sugar Industry Rebuffs U.S. Government Report Alleging Labor Violations
The Dominican sugar industry on Dec. 20 issued a detailed response to a report released by the U.S. Department of Labor about three months ago that found evidence of apparent and potential labor violations in the Dominican Republic’s sugar sector. While the DOL report did not make a determination with regard to the DR’s labor obligations under the DR-CAFTA, it identified a number of violations related to (1) acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health, such as payments below the minimum wage, 12-hour work days, seven-day work weeks, lack of potable water and the absence of safety equipment; (2) a minimum age for the employment of children and the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor; and (3) a prohibition on the use of any form of forced or compulsory labor. The report also addressed the department’s concerns with respect to freedom of association, the right to organize and collective bargaining as well as procedural and methodological shortcomings in the labor inspection process that presumably undermine the government's capacity to identify labor violations.
The Dominican sugar industry contends in its response that the DOL report “contains multiple errors and significant distortions,” particularly in the areas of wages and benefits, child and forced labor, freedom of association, and the provision of occupational safety and health equipment, and urges the DOL to “commit itself to a policy of transparency and release the data it purports to rely upon in making its findings.” The sugar industry indicates that it has already reformed record keeping procedures to better track the hours worked by cane cutters. This new system will ostensibly provide evidence that allegations that cutters are being compelled to work too many hours per day and too many days per week “are unfounded.” The sugar industry is also calling on the DOL to release the full transcripts of the interviews of 71 workers that were conducted as part of its report so that it can verify this information and correct any actual problems.