A ban on imports of sugar from the Dominican Republic is among the tools that more than a dozen House members are asking the Biden administration to consider using in response to continuing allegations of forced labor in the DR sugar industry. Such action could have significant consequences for U.S. companies that import or use sugar from the DR since it is a major supplier to the U.S. market.

In a Jan. 13 letter to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Department of Labor, 15 Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee said there have been “serious inquiries regarding inhumane labor conditions in the Dominican Republic’s sugar sector … for many years.” The DOL itself found “evidence of apparent and potential labor violations in the sector” in a 2013 report, which prompted it to engage with the DR government and industry stakeholders. However, the letter said “recent findings by investigative journalists provide strong evidence that, despite ten years of effort, labor conditions in the Dominican Republic sugar sector remain abhorrent.”

In response, the lawmakers requested that USTR, CBP, and DOL jointly review the alleged violations and then identify and consider all policy tools available to address them, including under CAFTA-DR, Section 307 of the Tariff Act, and any other trade enforcement laws.

This could mean limitations on the eligibility of goods imported from the DR for duty-free treatment under CAFTA-DR, which requires beneficiary countries to enforce their labor laws as one condition for such treatment. It could also mean subjecting some goods imported from the DR to a withhold release order, which would generally prohibit imports of those goods unless the importer can sufficiently show they were not made with forced labor.

The letter also asked the agencies to (1) develop a comprehensive action plan to remedy concerns about the use of forced labor in the DR sugar industry and (2) brief the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee on the review and action plan within 45 days.

Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg offers a comprehensive suite of services to help companies address forced labor concerns, including supply chain reviews, due diligence strategies, and proactive remediation. For more information, please contact Amanda Levitt (at (212) 549-0148 or via email), David Olave (at (202) 730-4960 or via email), or Nicole Bivens Collinson (at (202) 730-4956 or via email).

You can also click here for ST&R’s forced labor resources page.

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