Monday, December 18, 2006
Is sugar production modern day slavery?

Haitian children in a sugarcane worker settlement in the Dominican Republic.

Is the sugar you eat a product of slave labor? That's the accusation leveled by one of the readers of this blog, who pointed us to the Dominican Republic, where, she said, Haitian migrant workers are kept in slave camps, forced to work in the fields under armed guard, for a pittance.

It was a powerful charge, and some human rights groups say the accusation has merit. With the United States slowly increasing the amount of Dominican sugar sold here, we thought we'd check it out. What we found there was not slavery by any definition, but working conditions that were not acceptable by U.S. standards.

One of the nation's most powerful sugar families, the Vicinis, had decided to open its doors to a U.S. congressional delegation heading there on a fact-finding mission. We suspected the company would put its best face forward, but we tagged along anyway.

Sugar cane workers live in what are called bateys, small settlements of a few hundred people dotted among the cane fields. The Vicinis showed us one of the bateys. It appeared to have plumbing and electricity; the people seemed happy, and there was a shop, and a school.

But just down the road, we came across another batey, where other Vicini workers lived, that was not on the official tour. No running water, no electricity, too little food. The old or infirm looked like they were starving. One old man told us he hadn't eaten in four days. Children told us they planted cane in Vicini fields for three pesos a row. It takes a half day to plant a row.

The company says it doesn't hire children, but that it can't always control what unscrupulous subcontractors do. And it said it is trying to improve the lives of the workers, with an ambitious plan to build hundreds of new houses.

Along a roadside near the batey, we found people in some desperate straits: One man in his 50s was working on a Sunday, all day, to earn the equivalent of about $5, some of which he sent home to his children in Haiti, who he said were starving. And that's the problem: the reason these people work for so little is that there's even less where they came from. They're out of options, and without the legal rights of Dominican citizens, they're effectively voiceless.

Under terms of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. government is slowly increasing the amount of sugar that can be imported from the Dominican Republic. The members of Congress told the Dominican government that they would need to improve conditions for the workers. According to a Reuters report, the Dominican government told them to stop interfering.

Posted By Steve Turnham, CNN Producer: 8:30 PM ET
Is the sugar you eat a product of slave labor?

In most cases, sugar has been a slave labor job for many, many years. If you look at sugar production especially in Florida it is primarily a dirty, hard, messy job done by migrant workers. In the early 60's, the work was done primarly by those escaping the Castro regime.

During the Clinton adminstration, he pushed for better laws for the migrants and also for Florida's environmental clean up. The wetlands were being destroyed here especially near Lake Kissimmee.

We can thank Clinton for warranted government regulation on the environment and the overall clean up of the Florida sugar industry. Unfortunately, most of the migrant workers still live in poverty.
Posted By Anonymous Renee Bradenton, : 9:14 PM ET
"According to a Reuters report, the Dominican government told them to stop interfering."

If this country had any scruples (which we don't) we'd tell them straight up - fix the problem or lose our business.
Since the almighty dollar is more important than human lives, the sugar companies will make their money while these workers will starve and die.
Posted By Anonymous Will, Atlanta GA : 9:14 PM ET
Pardon me, but I believe this is a very real problem right HERE in the U.S.

Forced labor of migrant workers even inspired the hispanic advertising industry to undertake an initiative to help those working for close to no wages. Someone had to - these people are in fear of speaking out against their "employers" for fear that they will be deported if they contact any authorities.

All politics and anyone's beliefs about immigration aside, these people deserve a voice - it's their right as human beings.
Posted By Anonymous Lou Lozada, Miami, FL : 9:35 PM ET
No where to go? No chance at ever leaving the Dominician Republic, except in a box. It's slavery.

The children have all been declared stateless by the UN! No school, no medical care and no country to take them. Over 200,000 thousand Haitian children, yes children, live in squallor in the Dominician Republic.
Posted By Anonymous Jerry Cassin, Oxford, CT : 9:36 PM ET
If we continue to buy sugar from the Dominican Republic, are we any better than the powerful Dominican sugar families who abuse the workers who are forced to live in these squalid settlements?
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 9:37 PM ET
As consumers, I suppose we can avoid sugar raised in the Dominican... But will this help the situation or make it worse for the workers if demand were to decrease?
Posted By Anonymous Carrie, DeMotte, IN : 9:55 PM ET
It is hypocritical to criticize the Dominican Republic when we have hundred of thousands of migrant workers here in the U.S. working for a pittance
Posted By Anonymous Randy, Schenectady, NY : 10:01 PM ET
If the Dominican government wants more sugar imported by the U.S., then by all means they should improve conditions for the workers. However, the U.S. government cannot accept the Dominican government's "promises" of improvement without seeing improvement for themselves...more "just down the road" tours of bateys that are not on the official tour will be necessary!
Posted By Anonymous Lori; Augusta, GA : 10:06 PM ET
After working with Haitian migrant workers for two summers, I can affirm that the conditions that the Haitians are working in are indeed haneous. The Dominicans who oversee the sugarcane harvesting take advantage of the workers, paying them measly amounts and charging them egregious sums for housing. Children may be starving, but they are not allowed to eat the cane.
Oftentimes people in the bateys are not even allowed to plant gardens for themselves. Haitians are not allowed in the Dominican schools nor are they allowed in public Dominican hospitals. It was shocking for me to see the Haitian families' living conditions.

Yet it must be remembered that these people have moved here from Haiti to seek a better life for themselves. Conditions in Haiti are much, much worse. Though their lives may be destitute in Haiti, they actually have work in the Dominican and they have (for the most part) chosen to live in those bateys with those conditions over living in their homeland. They are illegal immigrants, and though they have been very exploited, they have not been forced into slavery.

The Haitian villages desperately need humanitarian aid and advocates to help them earn rights in the Dominican Republic. But the answer is not necessarily in boycotting the sugar industry there--it might hurt the Haitian workers' prospects more than it would help.
Posted By Anonymous Katherine, Asheville, NC : 10:12 PM ET
Dominicans are particularly hostile and inhumane to Haitians for racial and historical reasons. I would not be surprised to learn that there are even worse conditions than are reported here. As we continue our fascination with Castro and Cuba, we ignore even worse human rights abuses in so called free countries right next door. We should pressure the Dominican Republic to respect human rights and assist Haiti in helping its own citizens.
Posted By Anonymous Vaughn, Washington, DC : 10:12 PM ET
This is true, there is modern day slavery in the DR where haitian people live and work under inhumane conditions for just survival money. And unfortunately, in addition, are subject to extreme racism from most Dominicans.
The Haitian situation in the DR is very similar to the situation of the undocumented immigrants working in the US: they do the most undeserable jobs; they are denied of most human and worker rights; they are forced to live in fear; they abandoned/fleet their country out of the necessity of providing a better life to their family and the lack of opportunities in their native land.
Posted By Anonymous Freddy Peralta, Lexington, KY : 10:23 PM ET
As sad as it is, if the workers are allowed to leave if they want and they are not being sold, then they are not slaves. They are slaves to what we all are, money. Even if they make very little, it is better than where they are from. What is sad is a sports figure, a rapper, a movie star or talk show host making millions and billions of dollars and you hear about that person lending their name to a cause. If they have 10 million, they ought to give 5 million to the unfortunates around the world. When a person takes their last breath, they don't worry about how much money they have, only while they are living. This world needs to do better and start helping others and please, if you are a big star, don't think that people are that impressed when you lend your name to some cause and you don't give until it hurts. That doesn't impress anyone.
Posted By Anonymous Frank, Cape Carteret, N. C. : 10:27 PM ET
This is a topic that has been on Haitian mind for years- check out the story from Haitian side of the border as well you mind find them more willing to talk. Glad to see a factual reporting on the topic. Wish it could get more coverage and brought some changes for these folks. It's quite disturbing to think anyone would work for pennies a day - it might not be slavery by definition but it ought to be categorize as such!
Posted By Anonymous Johnny, New York, NY : 10:34 PM ET
Why do you have to go as far as the Dominican Republic? Aren't you aware that there is a place called Florida, USA, where these same men are taken from the Caribbean Islands to do the same type of slave labor on US Soil?

Ignorance is a blist!, so take a journey to Florida, and this will give your reporting a little bit more credibility.
Posted By Anonymous Verol Thompson, Atlanta, GA : 10:36 PM ET
Human trafficking or modern day slavery is more than just poor living conditions or whether they are sending the few pennies they are earning per day back home that families who live in worst conditions.
Human Trafficking is about the lack of freedom; are they free to leave with any financial or personal repercutions to them or their families? are they free to leave without the threat of being reported to the Dominican authorities or to the Immigration Service? and above all what is the believe of the victims? do they know that they are free to leave? or do they feel that if they do they will be punished y the company that employes them?
Posted By Anonymous Carmen Maquilon, Massapequa, NY : 10:43 PM ET
I visited Batay 7 with a Church Group.
It is modern day slavery - They live and die there. The coffin maker is there, no running water and the children have distended stomachs and runny noses with no medical care. Most often the male children are nude.
The children are so deprived that even 17 and 18 year olds were thrilled to be able to collect dirty paper plates and have the opportunity to use color crayons. It is horrendous! I think we should all boycott the companies that benefit.
Posted By Anonymous Gail Hutchinson, Brunswick, GA : 10:48 PM ET
After viewing the story, the unofficial and the official versions vary significantly. But I cannot assume that the people are lying and all one has to do is watch as they are filmed working. I think it is important for people to understand that these people are paid not by the hour but by the ton and thus the elderly are at a severe disadvantage. And I ask: an American entourage comes to investigate and this issue lays dorment in our minds? Perhaps the holiday spirit drives people to ignore the atrocities of the world...
Posted By Anonymous Ben Spencer, Boston MA : 10:52 PM ET
From living in the DR, visiting bateys, and studying the history, sociology, and enconomics of the country, this issue is much more complicated than this story goes into. This is not an issue of modern day slavery. The Haitians living in bateys choose to live and work there. It is also important to point out that some Dominicans also live in bateys and that not all Haitians in the DR do. Bateys vary from community to community, some are much more well off than others.

There is a long and complicated history between Haiti and the DR that has led to racism and poor working conditions for Haitians. There is a much more complex issue at hand dealing with racism, immigration, and citizenship for Haitians in the DR.

Boycotting the DR sugar idustry is not the answer. It may hurt Haitians more than help them. Poverty, human rights, and labor rights are issues that need to be addressed in the DR for both Haitians and Dominicans (millions of Dominicans live in poverty and are exploited for labor as well). Furthermore, the country of Haiti needs much attention as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. There is a reason why there are so many Haitian immigrants living in the DR and so many living in such poor conditions in bateys--which are unimaginably better than the conditions in their homeland.
Posted By Anonymous Meg, Omaha, NE : 10:53 PM ET
Hey, as long as our government of the elite, by the elite and for the elite have sugar for their double mocha latte, who cares if some Haitian is being exploited? Why not send them to Costa Rica or somewhere so they can put together $200 sneakers for 10 cents a day instead of the nickel they get now? Anybody know if Kathie Lee is still hiring?

The Dominican govt. said not to interfere? No problem. We don't have to buy your sugar either. But we will anyway, because the same government whores who are selling America's soul to the highest bidder will buy it.

I'm not so ashamed of my governemnt as I am of my people who refuse to do anything about it.

What we need in this country is a revolution in the same scope as the one that formed this once great nation.The people need to take their country back from the vultures who continue to say they love America but clearly have no idea what it needs nor do they care.

To the children growing up today, I can only say I am so sorry for what we are leaving you.
Posted By Anonymous Milton Sierra Ft. Myers, FL : 10:56 PM ET
In the sugar industry beet-sugar has outnumbered cane sugar in the world market. I guess that the demand for raw cane sugar is increasing again. I am baffled to see a cane sugar plantation in this day of age.
Posted By Anonymous Ratna, New York, NY : 10:58 PM ET
Unfortunately for these workers in the Dominican Republic they can expect very little to absolutely no assistance nor aide from the U.S. due in part to the fact that there is no personal gain for our government where such is the case in places like Iraq or Kuwait. Genocide is happening every minute of the day and for decades in places like Darfur and as it were in Rawanda while Powerful countries like the U.S. watched idle and turned a deaf ear as if it were a figment of our imagination!!! How long will we ignore the sufferings, slaughters, brutal rapings, and ultimate extermination of these people? These horrific crimes committed by these militant thugs make Saadam Hussein look like a choir boy. My heart and prayers go out to these defenseless people who are suffering beyond anything that I could ever phathom or imagine.
Posted By Anonymous Tasha Atlanta, Ga : 10:58 PM ET
Dear Steve,

I am sure it is no accident that you have chosen "International Migrants'Day"(December 18), to do a report on the Haitian migrant workers in the Dominican Republic.

Just as we saw in Africa, these poverty sticken people desperate to find employment suffer great hardships and are exploited by others for profit. Charged exorbitant fees by smugglers who help them to illegally cross the border, they are often discriminated against and as undocumented workers, are deported back to Haiti. Those that aren't, work, as you said, for close to nothing, on sugar cane plantations and live in bateyes.

The migrant workers are not the only shame on the sugar industry. Unfortunately, you don't have to travel out of the United States to find corruption and coercion in this industry. The sugar industry lobbyists are just as bad, if not worse than those in the tobacco industry. They exert great influence on our government officials, market unrelentingly to children, giving them the highs and lows of an addict, while disguising their product under various names like fructose, glucose, corn syrup, and others.

There is more to "sugar blues" than meets the eye.

Jo Ann
Posted By Anonymous Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 11:05 PM ET
So, which companies produce Dominican Republic sugar, so I can boycott them? It is absolutely appalling, the conditions in which these our brothers and our children are working. Tell me from whom not to buy!
Posted By Anonymous Jan Theiss-Guffey, San Jose, California : 11:08 PM ET
After reading this blog entry regarding slave-type conditions on the sugar farms in the Dominican Republic, I would say that the accusation was very close to accurate. I cannot conceive that this still happens in the world, but it sure does. I am appauled by it, and was disappointed in the ending of this blog.
Whoever wrote it just sort of fizzled out without making some type of statement of what will really be done about it. At least call upon some human rights groups who can go there and make some progress to help these people and the children who are being exploited!
The workers in the batey with running water and electricity would of course look happy and joyful...their livelihood depends on it. That is horrible.
Please say that something will be done about it, besides the U.S. Congress just giving a verbal "tisk tisk" to the Dominican government. Don't leave us hanging with a useless statement of "The members of Congress told the Dominican government that they would need to improve conditions for the workers. According to a Reuters report, the Dominican government told them to stop interfering," and then leave us with no hope for these hardworking, neglected people. I wish I could do something besides boycotting sugar from there. Please update us on any progress for the workers of the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic. Thank you for giving me a voice and for doing your part in a free speaking America.
Posted By Anonymous Jenny Morgan, Johnson City, TN : 11:12 PM ET
Let's make this synonymous with something that a few of us here in the U.S. are familiar with thanks to small entries in our history books-sharecropping. These workers are in this situation because there is a visible catch-22. If they don't work, they starve. If they choose not to starve, they must endure immoral and inhumane working conditions.

The US dollar must show some swagger here. It must not associate itself with goods that are obtained in ways of ill repute. Obviously, the companies that are trading with the DR are doing so because of the good economic sense that it makes. Would it hurt these companies to save only $60 per bushel over $65 per bushel? Regard for the human experience must hold some value.
Posted By Anonymous Derek, West Des Moines, IA : 11:28 PM ET
Your story from the Dominican Republic is almost identical to the sugar field production and working conditions operational in Cuba before Fidel Castro mounted his revolution. Regardless of whether or not we consider Castro to be much of an improvement, there was a REASON he was able to take power - and this is it.

Maybe this time around, those of us who can remember will make some better choices in our response to conditions in our back yards.
Posted By Anonymous L Tally, Durham, NC : 11:34 PM ET
I would love to get all the people that are commenting here in a trip to dominican republic to see the conditions of The Dominicans not in the sugar plantations but in the cities. How difficult is our situation while a lot of american companies make tons of money out of our products. Also I would like you to go to "Little Haiti" and ask the haitian there how they live compare with haiti, how they are allow to progress and have their own businesses which they will never in haiti. A lot of people here talking about a situation that they don't know. All haitians wants to live in the Dominican Republic becasue there they are treated in a way that their own people will never, as Humans. "GO TO HAITI TO SEE HOW THEY TREAT THEIR OWN PEOPLE", YOU BUNCH OF IGNORANTS.
Posted By Anonymous Gerson, Boston Mass. : 11:36 PM ET
The second comunity the congressmen visited is Batey Paloma it is not property of the vicini group it is owned by the bankrupt state owned sugarmills which are inoperational, people in paloma have no reliable source of income and live in terrible conditions. Their living facilities are not a responsability of the Vicini's.

i suggest you get your facts right, that you check your sources and verify who they respond to and what their true ly motivated their miss representation. You will find that there is something much larger than life in Bateys and any dominican family behind this story.
Posted By Anonymous Juan Acosta, Santo Domingo Dominican Republic : 11:39 PM ET
Thanks CNN for finally making public a secret that every dominican knows that it is the cruel reality of the migrant Haitians. It is about time that Dominican authorities and unscrupulous business man are brought to a stop in their modern days slavery.
Posted By Anonymous Gilberto Garcia, Hackensack, NJ : 11:47 PM ET
Yawnnnnn this is the liberal cause de'jure. The truth is that the world is a nasty place because you do-gooders have allowed the population to grow to a point where it is not sustainable. Seven billion people on a planet that was meant to support one billion. And growing every day. Remember, when the oil runs out so does the food. But don't worry about these people. Our state dept. will team up with some good christian organization to import them to a neighborhood near you real soon. Enjoy the diversity they will bring.
Posted By Anonymous Jim, Huntington, N.Y. : 11:56 PM ET
Stuff like this happens in areas like Haiti all the time. The problem will be ignored until Haiti starts producing oil.
Posted By Anonymous Kurt Cincinnati, Ohio : 12:03 AM ET
Ofcourse the conditions of migrant workers everywhere are terrible and disgusting to us here. But obviously there has to be some reason that they are migrant workers. Where are they fleeing from? What did they come from that is so bad that they have to resort to practically being slaves and become exploited in another country? I think there are so many different intertwining issues going on with the exploitation of desperate people that its hard to really fathom their problem and help them for that matter. A lot of their problems essentially have to do with the global economic system, that still seems to allow for such travesties. We'd think that slavery was a thing of the past, but in reality, the most profitable labor is slavery, and in a dog eat dog capitalist dominated society that we have today, it's hard to avoid that fact.
Posted By Anonymous Emily N, San Diego, CA : 12:47 AM ET
While the situation is tragic, I do not think it is right to force standards on private business. The economics are simple; pay as little as you can to get the results you want. Managers in the US will not be paid minimum wage because the business that hires them wants better results. Simple economics.

Similarly, if we force companies to pay more, then the price of sugar rises. When price raises demand decreases. It is not possible, by simple economic theory, to have wages increase and prices and demand say the same. The money has to come from somewhere.

People say take it from the big shots at the top, but who risked investment? It wasn't the workers. What about a bad crop. The workers could leave to find other work, but the owner cannot. If there was a war and lands were seized, who compensates the owner. Again, the workers just move on. There is risk in investment and you hope it pays off. If someone has a problem with the way a business is being run, go and start your own. Pay the wages you want. If you can make it, you have made the world a better place. If not, and you lose everything, maybe you can understand why the investors, the people at the top, take home the big checks.
Posted By Anonymous David Whitewater, WI : 12:53 AM ET
There has got to be better ways of (excuse the wording) policing the conditions of our imports. If we are going to open our borders under these free-trade-esque policies then we ought to put money towards constant regulation securing acceptable standards for foreign workers.

I am sickened by this situation and multitudes of others like it.
Posted By Anonymous J. Hos, Toledo Ohio : 1:18 AM ET
The US needs to reconsider the damaging effects that its tariffs on sugar have on sugar producing countries. By restricting the amount of imported sugar the US therefore limits the competitive market for sugar production and upholds subsidies and dependence on US corn products (a domestic alternative to foreign sugar).
Posted By Anonymous Jenny, Ann Arbor, MI : 1:18 AM ET
I have not read anyone elses comments but just the idea that the Dominican government would say to stop interfering tells me they have something to lose and hide. I would have replied "ok we will". And then go get our sugar from some place else that will be reasonable and human about how they treat the workers.
With the buying power we have as a country we should be easily able to make people act like human beings. I mean how many times do we see some country treating its people like dirt and they we buy from them. We are part of the problem if we do not do something about it.
Posted By Anonymous Mike Emmendorfer, Flint,Michigan : 1:28 AM ET
It's interesting to see how major media outlets pay no attention to the slavery used to produce the vast majority of coffee and chocolate consumed by Americans. Perhaps you should cover that as well...
Posted By Anonymous William Anderson, Vermillion, SD : 1:28 AM ET
Thank you for this article and for responsible journalism that shows this to many people who would not have heard about it otherwise.

There is a 1983 film classic 'Sugar Cane Alley' or 'Rue Cases Negres' in French, directed by Euzhan Palcy based on a novel by Joseph Zobel, that illustrates this story. The film is an excellent one on its own merits, but also highlights apartheid and poverty in the sugar plantations of Martinique, in the early 1930s.

I think we don't have to accept anything that is wrong in our world. We can change it. We simply have to hammer away at the political powers to stop supporting slavery in this area. How dare the Vicinis family sell us sugar that is created through inflicting misery on people and children. How dare they!

Write your congresswoman, write letters to the editor of your local paper urging people to boycott this sugar and write to supermarkets, the president, and make this fact known. It is especially helpful to make supermarkets aware of the negative publicity they will receive if they carry this brand of sugar.

We can change the world if we work together toward a solution and not contribute to the problem.

Posted By Anonymous Mercure, Redondo Beach, CA : 1:42 AM ET
How about looking into the sugar cane industry closer in, like in Florida? There are lots of undocumented people fro m Mexico who are live in slavery conditions: they must pay back huge debts to those that brought them here but can only purchase goods from "company stores" that charge them more than they make. This is of course slavery.
Posted By Anonymous Alejandrina Pattin, Florida : 1:49 AM ET
This is of no surprise to me. I have seen slavery myself in the cocoa fields of Ivory Coast and in much of the artisanal gold mining of the Guiana Shield in South America. I find it ironic that the NGO's that attack big business do not instead, focus on thses glaring problems in the developing world.
Posted By Anonymous Doug Montreal CANADA : 2:08 AM ET
"without the legal rights of ****** citizens, they're effectively voiceless"

gee, and we don't have that same thing happening here? Substitute American farms and Mexican workers, and you have the same story... just a different place.

What the US is doing is just as wrong.
Posted By Anonymous Shawna, Hood RIver, OR : 2:46 AM ET
Perhaps they would be able to pay the workers more if we bought more sugar from the third world. The question isn't how bad a situation is, it is what is the alternative. If they were not working on the plantation would they be starving? what would be their situation? It is easy to say that life is so hard for the poor and the plantation owners are so bad, but they are acting just like everyone else and doing what is best for themselves. If you force the plantations to pay more before buying more sugar so they have the reasources to do so the plantation would lose competativeness with other alternatives such as putting the money that it cost to run a plantation in the bank. This means the people that kept jobs would have better working conditions but those that didn't would really starve. You can't judge the world by our standards but by where they are and what their alternatives are.
Posted By Anonymous John H, Nevada MO : 2:46 AM ET
Modern Day Slavery?
My first impression when I visited a batey and saw men working in the sugar cane fields was this. However, after spending a week working with these people that is not the impression I went away with. The issue is much more complex than the story that aired.
The Vicini sugar plantation seems to get all the blame, however the plantation owned by the DR government has the same working conditions.
It is unfortunate that you did not show many of the humanitarian projects that are going on in the DR to help the Haitians and Dominicans living in these bateys.
I worked with a man Elio Madonia, a Canadian, who has dedicated his life to building homes, bringing medical care and schooling to the cane cutters and their families. He is currently building his 6th and 7th villages that provide free housing for the cane cutters. These homes may not be great when compared to North American standards but they are a start to a better life.
The people who live in these villages and batey's are generally happy. They are not forced to stay, however they have no place to go.
I found it very inspiring to go to the DR and work in Elio's villages. I had the experience of presenting a home in Elio's village to a family who was living in a batey. It was an emotional and humbling experience.
These may seem only like baby steps to the much bigger problem, that being poverty.
It was great that this story aired. I will be travelling back to the DR to work with the people in the sugar cane fields again.
Hopefully next time this story is updated (if it ever is)you will include some of the many great things people are doing to help the Haitians and Dominicans living in these bateys.
Posted By Anonymous Shelagh, Cambridge Ontario Canada : 3:34 AM ET
And the saga of sugar slavery continues....

I was not entirely surprised to learn the unfortunate details in the "Sugar Slavery" segment which aired this past evening.

I'm currently reading "Sugar Blues" by William Dufty, which happens to detail the history of the sugar trade - going back to the Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and British enslaving Africans to harvest the many colonial sugar plantations, over the course of 3 to 4 centuries. A disgusting truth, but quite interesting to read the many negative effects of this industry.
I now have not only health reasons, but also humanitarian and historical reasons that are causing me to consider boycotting sugar permanently.

Being of African-Caribbean descent, this segment truly hit home with me: thinking of the millions of lives that were terrorized in the past because of this, and to see that in the present, privileged elitists continue to treat my people less than equal.
Posted By Anonymous Gary, Brampton, ON : 3:41 AM ET
The U.S. Government has long since ignored the problems of the Haitian people. As far as immigrants go on the scale of who to let in and who not to, again the Haitian people are left out of the loop. We can only pray and hope that such journalism like this will make it to the masses and then and only then will a change come about.
Posted By Anonymous Beth Holland, Union, NJ : 5:16 AM ET
This makes me wonder to what ends big companies will go to get cheap labor. Its absolutely disgusting to know there are still conditions like this in the 21st century. Those rich bosses could care less about anything but their profits, never mind that these people are human beings just trying to exist.
This is why the illegal alien situation in the US irritates me, not that the employees there are paid pittances, just that the employers know they can get a lot more work from them at a much cheaper price. Is it the big money these big companies make that makes them lose their compassion for other human beings? Employers are 3/4 of the illegal alien problem in the US.
Posted By Anonymous Bev Ontario Canada : 8:26 AM ET
Look who is talking the same people that can't see the Haitian people in their country on even closed to it, You people have to see the politics of your country first and them you can talk about others country politics, you are the most racist people in the world after the French's. The politics of your country against the Haitians is pathetic your government is using the Dominican Republic as a junk yard for the Haitian immigrants, if you people the American people are so concern about the Haitian people why don't you just open the borders to all the Haitian immigrants that are working illegally in the Dominican Republic an take that problem off the backs of the Dominican population.
Posted By Anonymous Julio Aybar, Brooklyn NY : 9:07 AM ET
I've read some comments here saying the Dominican Republic has to help Haitians and make up for their problems. In case you don't know, the Dominican Republic is a third world country with tons of problems of their own.
The real problem is we in the US have invaded Haiti a couple of times and haven't done anything to help them solve their problems. How hypocrit can we be?
Posted By Anonymous Mike, NY,NY : 9:20 AM ET
I am going to tell you what the real problem is here:

I am a Dominican who lives in the United States (New York). The real problem here is that Haiti, being the poorest country in the hemisphere needs the help of every country in this continent, specially the United States. I don't think anybody is doing enough to solve Haiti's social and economic problems and the Dominican Republic, being it's closest neighbor has not choice but to deal with it. I am not trying to justify by any means the treatment that Haitian workers receive in the Dominican Republic, it's inhuman what these poor people have to deal with in the bateys, all I am saying is that the international community has to admit that the Dominican Republic cannot by itself deal with this problem since we have our own social and economic problems as well.

Instead of spending millions of dollars in a war that appears to take us nowhere, why don't spend some time and money in trying to help Haiti; I guarantee you that this will solve the Dominican-Haiti issue once and for all.
Posted By Anonymous Alex Perez, New York NY : 9:26 AM ET
If you really wan t to help the haitian go and help the haitian goverment, there they need help so the people will stay in haiti, have you ever think how they live in haiti, they lifes in haitin why they go to the dominican rep to work there in that condition? they have the right to live but they stay, so that mean they have better lifes that they had in haiti, so peaple do better your reading and stop talking about what you don1t know....
Posted By Anonymous ed hackensack nj : 9:32 AM ET
It's a sad thing that's happening with the sugar cane workers. What about all the young women forced to be sexual slaves? What about the prisoners forced to work in quarry's? It is an international problem that needs to be taken more seriously.
Posted By Anonymous Jess, Paris, KY : 9:32 AM ET
Okay let me break this down for all this folks out there that dont have a clue whatsoever about the Haitians in the Dominican Republic. First of all it is not slavery what they are doing to these people They choose to do this type of jobs because in Haiti there is no such a thing as WORK. Second for those out there that are saying they D.R. government does not provide electricity nor running water guess what? NOT EVEN the Dominicans have water nor electricity in their own homes, the electricity comes and go every day for hours and dont come back until the next day. Water! unless you have whats called a "Sisterna" (water well) you wont have running water either. So dont go so fas as the bateys everyone in the DR is poor unless you're a cellebrity a doctor or a politic. Third its funny how you guys demand for the "Human Rights" in the DR. LOL!!! Excuse me but there is no such a thing as "Human Rights" over there the first crooks are the cops and the president himself who spends all the money on new cars, expensive trips and he even wants to build a freaking artificial island in front of the Malecon Santo Domingo thats estimated cost is more than 3billion dollars so tell me how do you want this workers to get paid more and rights etc when the ones that are supposed to lead by example dont and live off the people that have a few pesos to survive. And last you guys should really read the history between "Quisqueya (DR) and Haiti" you'll be surprised. And another thing how can USA critize DR when here in FL they have thousands of inmigrants working in the Orange fields under the hot sun no food no water getting pay less then the minimun wage excuse me but that is slavery as well. So come on people open your eyes and stop being so ignorant, to whats going on around the world, its very easy to point fingers and not admit that this whole world its becoming to an end.
Posted By Anonymous Helen B., Miami, FL : 9:44 AM ET
You make some very valid points about the conditions in which these inmigrants work in my country, and I agree that their living conditions are in many cases not fit for a human beign. I too hope that my government and that the private sector take more responsability and fix this problem. Having said that, I think that as a journalist, your headline and lead were irresponsible and misleading. You know that most people will only get as far a the first few sentences of a post, and you used them to gather atention, without any care for informing people correcly, as you do more to the end of your post.

I don't know if the DR should lose American business over this, but I do know that this is not slavery, and that many NGOs in the country are working to defend and promote the rights of Haitian inmigrants, something that you neglected to mention at all.

We have a serious inmigration problem in the DR, and are dealing with it as poorly as the US is dealing with theirs. It is unfair and unfiting to compare working conditions for our sugar plantations to "american standars" we are after all a developing country where 20% of our population (inmigrants or not) leave in extreme poverty and in conditions similar to those that you saw in bateyes, and not knowing when their next meal will come. You would have seen this if you would have bothered to look further than "just down the road", or looked at least looked at the World Bank statistics and reports; they are available online.
Posted By Anonymous Mariafi, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic : 9:44 AM ET
I beg to differ: responsible journalism this not. Steve: I can read through a terribly misleading title and a foggy lead, and through some very true remarks...but where is the other side of the story? What are Dominican authorities doing besides asking the U.S. not to interfere with their own business? What are the U.S. doing to help the very needy nation of Haiti, apart from promoting the acceptance of illegal immigrants in Dominican territory, only to free themselves (the U.S.) of such a heavy burden? Steve, commenters, please raise your hands and legs, and see the puppet strings hanging from them. At the rate the public opinion is hammering the DR for their treatment of illegal Haitians, we (the Dominicans) are definitely going to have find a way to inject oil into Haitian land ourselves.
Posted By Anonymous Lisse, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic : 9:54 AM ET
If these workers were white, our gov't would be sending troops in there to make sure their gov't gave them some sort of decent life. But as with Africa and New Orleans, this administration can't be bothered to lift a finger when people of color are involved unless there is money to be made.
Posted By Anonymous Maggie, Indianapolis, IN : 10:22 AM ET
So, is everything on your christmas list bought? Are you ready for the festivities? Are your fridges full of food? It seems so superficial when you look at the lives of some people. It sadden me to watch last night. I'm 39, and when I was a child, my godmother used to go several times a year to Haiti to work for the Red Cross. She talked to me about the poverty,the people,the country. It's odd, I found a box full of things she brought back to me from Haiti this week-end. A friend of mine, a policeman, went there last year to do some protection work. There is so much misery, to think that they have it better in DOm.Rep. is a far cry. What I couldn't believe last night was the boss saying he doesn't hire children. But he doesn't have control if some of his workers do. Huuhhh!Excuse me, but, isn't that your job as a boss to make sure your company is on the up and up?
Another one that can't take responsability. There seems to be a lot of that going on. And when the work is done by machine, what will happen to the workers? We seem to be going in circle here.

Joanne Ranzell
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne Ranzell Laval Quebec : 10:46 AM ET
IF things are so bad in D.R. for hatians, Then get the hell out go back to haiti see how you like it there!! The US needs to mind there own business, like sending more inocent young kids out to irak to die!!
Posted By Anonymous WILLOBLOG LAWRENCE, MA 01843 : 10:58 AM ET
Unfortunately, the plight of the Haitians is a result of the Duvalier's "leadership." The Dominican Government needs to improve working conditions, living conditions and wages for the Haitian migrant workers. It seems like CNN was allowed to talk to the children migrant workers, but was not allowed by the plantation owners to get photos of them working. Child labor laws changed a great deal in this country thanks to the photograpy of socially aware documentarists like Lewis Hines and Dorothea Lange in the 1900's. Rather than exploiting them, the photos helped. Now there are some established organizations to help migrant families. My mother's childhood friend, a nun and attorney was with one for several years. As Hines said,"There's work that profits children, and there is work that brings profit only to employers. The object of employing children is not to train them, but to get high profits from their work."
Posted By Anonymous Carol B., Frederick, MD : 11:06 AM ET
It amazes me how manupulated this story was. This report is intended to have the american people see the contrast of their own lifestyles compared to that portrayed in the story. However it would have been a better story if the audience could have compared the living conditions in bateyes to that of the general population of Haiti, or even more important to the story to those of dominicans in their own lands. And since we are talking about immigrant workers, it could have also shown the conditions of those immigrant workers in US soil as well. It is very easy to shock an american (who earns hundreds if not thousands of times more that any agricultural worker in the DR - regardless of nationality, color or creed). Haiti is the poorest country of the western hemisphere, and the DR is by no means a rich nation. We, in the DR, with no doubt have a lot of work to do with improving the lives of anyone who works here, but this was definetily a cheap shot. You have to live here or move around in the country to see that there is a big problem with wealth distribution and social services, not with slavery. How soon have americans forgot what the word slavery means... I have to read in between the lines and only guess that there are some US interest group with a hidden agenda. Looking forward to the development of the hidden agenda.
Posted By Anonymous Eric, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic : 11:25 AM ET
Would someone please correct me if I am wrong but did not the US along with other nations help deplete Haiti of the ability to thrive by cutting down (I think it was rubber trees) causing mass erosion.If this is true, why is it we don't accept any responsibility for the plight of these people. We even turn them away after being a part of their problem. Could it possibly be for the same reason that the DR exploits them,( they are black) now our powers can't squeeeze any more money out of that land. Our country already knew what was happening but we follow the money.
Posted By Anonymous vivian Kilgore, Va. Beach, Va. : 11:42 AM ET
Wow... I'm surprised by all your moral concerns... including Mr. Cooper. Have any of you heard of the meat plants closed last week by the US immigration authorities? Have any of you heard about the issues raised by the lack "workers" to pick up fruits in Florida? No to excuse the situation in the Dom Rep which is not new... for your knowledge, the sugar business is not any different than it was when the sugar was heavily imported from Cuba (yes, before Castro). To solve problems like this we should do more than just threatened to buy someplace else.
Posted By Anonymous Frank Lopez, NYC, NY (Born in the Dom Rep) : 12:16 PM ET
I am surprised to see that for once people are noticing how unfairly ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS are treated in a foreign country. This "SLAVERY" issue is happening right here in the good ole US of A! Why not try to fix our issues and then start pointing fingers.
I am in no way saying that the working conditions in the Dominican Republic for these people are good, because they are not, but Dominican families aren't the only one's who own these companies. There are also AMERICAN companies who are exploiting people...
I think I'm smelling a hidden agenda!
Posted By Anonymous Evelyn M. Boston, Massachusetts : 12:45 PM ET
Thank you so very much for reporting on this horrible and shameful treatment of Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic.
I hope CNN and Mr. Cooper would continue to cover this story, and hopefully,the current Haitian government takes notice and would consider having serious conversations with the Dominican government and their allies to stop the abuse. Haitians like many others left their homeland for other contries in search of a better life-Not to be treated as slaves!

At this time of the year, I cannot thank you enough for reaching out and giving the voice to those in need.

Keep on "Keeping them honest",
Posted By Anonymous Kerline Tofuri, Hanover, MA : 1:32 PM ET
Hispaniola is an island split between two countries, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The US Government has directly influenced both militarily and financialy. Unfortunatly the policies in Haiti have only helped bring down what was a proud people.
Could race play a role in this failure?
Posted By Anonymous Bill Lauderdale Jacksonville, Florida : 1:40 PM ET
Race playing a role in this situation? Please! Dominicans are of mixed race by over 85%. The reality is, many Dominicans live under this unimaginable conditions too. Many don't have anything to eat, to the point where eating cardboard becomes appealing and acceptable. I have seen it with my own eyes.

Yes, it is sad that Haitians are treated this way, but so are Dominicans. The powerful families in the DR who own the big companies have no regard for the welfare of their employees, whether Haitian or Dominican. The Dominican Government, the UN, the interantional community MUST help, MUST intervene, if this situation is to be changed.
Posted By Anonymous Antonia Hollander, San Rafael, CA : 3:26 PM ET
What if there was a push to make the Dominican Sugar trade a "Fair Trade" business, like some coffess and other imported products (like the ingredients for Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps...) including some brands of organic sugars?
Posted By Anonymous Rebecca Westbrook, Durant, Oklahoma : 5:25 PM ET
I hope to see a report on how Americans treat inmigrants in the US. I am surprised by the fact that the US is now interested in Haitians who live in the Dominican Republic, when the real problem is in Haiti. I am against any slavery act, but most of the changes need to take place in Haiti, not in the DR;that's where those congress members who recently visited the DR need to go and see the real world.
Also, when you are 'cleaning' you start in your house first
Posted By Anonymous Giovanni New York, NY : 9:23 PM ET
It seems ironic the US is looking into sugar harvesting in other countries. Have you ever spent anytime in the Glades located right here in the U.S.? The western most part of Palm Beach County, Florida...any area of wealth. Harvest of Shame aired in the 60s. Look at it again.
Posted By Anonymous Katie, Stuart, Florida : 9:37 PM ET
I am looking for anywere that I can view the entire program online. Anybody have any ideas? Haven't seen it on youtube yet.

Also, an organization that I am involved with is planning on doing humanitarian work on the water systems in the bateys surronding La Romana. Please, if you are involved in any similiar work at all, contact me at dustincraig (at) gmail(dot)com. I would love to hear what other groups are doing and what has been succesful.
Posted By Anonymous Dustin Craig, Kansas City Missouri : 10:04 PM ET
The all mighty,wealthy, land of the free ignores the problem in Haiti and now you want to throw DR under the bus. AMERICANS always want to point fingers.Your GOVERNMENT just stands by and lets MILLIONS of PEOPLE die all over the world. What has this country done for Haiti that has actually helped them?How many millions has Bush sent to help eradicate hunger in Haiti and to better living conditions? FEW IF ANY !!
This Great country works off of interest. Since there is no interest in HAITI then let's turn the other way and let the Dominicans deal with them and if they exploit them so what. we do it the mexicans too.
Posted By Anonymous Juan Adames, The Bronx NY : 1:03 AM ET
we dominican people do a lot of things to make life easier for the haitians that live here in our country (i would dare to say that we do MORE than others countries that only watch from the outside including your beloved America). In fact, without our help, Haiti would even exist today.

That's true they work here in extreme conditions, but it's the only choise they have, and that's we can do for them, because we are a POOR COUNTRY, too.
Posted By Anonymous Pedro Guerra, Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep. : 9:21 AM ET
Finger pointing a company is not going to solve the problem of the cane-cutters, the Haitians and even the Dominicans that live in extremly poor conditions. This video is too bias to show the other sides of the story.
- Americans looking outside (the DR) to avoid looking at their own poor labor conditions in their fields (tomatoes, sugar cane, etc). Just take a look at the Florida fields. It is not only the fact of the low wages
- Not only Haitians live in those Bateyes. Dominicans do too. Not all of them work in the sugarcane industry. Not all bateyes are bad, if we understand that this situation is suffer in every country in Latin America.
Posted By Anonymous Dolores, Miami, FL : 11:54 AM ET
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