The Human Cost of America’s Sugar Habit

Millions of pounds of sugar are harvested for the U.S. each year in the Dominican Republic, where the grueling work means harsh conditions and low pay for Haitian migrants.

In the Dominican Republic’s vast plantations, sugarcane is still cut by men with machetes and hauled away by ox-drawn carts. Some workers make as little as $3 a day. For decades, much of this work has been done by Haitian migrants. 

Some of the sugar these workers harvest ends up on our breakfast table, as millions of pounds of raw sugar are exported yearly to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. And the biggest sugar company and largest exporter to the U.S. is the Central Romana Corp., which is closely connected to two powerful Florida businessmen, Alfonso and Pepe Fanjul. 

Reporters Sandy Tolan and Euclides Cordero Nuel take you to Central Romana’s work camps, or “bateyes,” to see how the backbreaking work is taking a toll on the people who harvest that sugar.

Credit: Pedro Farias-Nardi

The Bitter Work Behind Sugar

By Sandy Tolan, Euclides Cordero Nuel and the Reveal team | September 18, 2021

On a vast plantation in the Dominican Republic, Haitian migrants still use machetes to harvest sugarcane that’s exported to the U.S. The workers are protesting poor working and living conditions.

Credit: Pedro Farias-Nardi

The High Cost of America’s Sugar Habit

By Sandy Tolan | September 17, 2021

I’d read the human rights reports documenting the Dominican military’s role in transporting Haitian men, and sometimes children, to the harvest. But now I was seeing it for myself.

Two men stand next to a ramshackle building next to a sugar field.
Credit: Pedro Farias-Nardi

‘They Just Came and Started Breaking Houses’

By Sandy Tolan | December 22, 2021

After our investigation prompted action in Congress, a major Dominican sugar exporter razed workers’ homes as U.S. diplomats drew near.

Credit: Pedro Farias-Nardi

US Bans Sugar Imports From Top Dominican Producer Over Forced Labor Allegations

By Sandy Tolan and Michael Montgomery | November 23, 2022

The United States will block shipments of raw sugar from a top Dominican producer with close ties to two wealthy Florida businessmen after finding indications of forced labor at its sprawling Caribbean plantation. 

Impact and Updates

Oct. 25, 2021: Citing Reveal and Mother Jones’ investigation, the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade calls for an end to “outrageous, abusive practices” in the sugarcane fields of the Dominican Republic.

Jan. 13, 2022: The U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade issues a second statement and calls on three federal agencies to take action to address “slave-like” conditions in the Dominican sugar industry. The letter and accompanying press release cite the Reveal and Mother Jones investigations.

Jan. 27, 2022:  The Dominican government announces plans to register all undocumented workers. This would allow Haitian cane cutters to collect government pensions. Workers who harvest sugar on plantations owned by Central Romana already have pension funds deducted from their paychecks.

Feb. 15, 2022: The Dominican Republic’s minister of labor, Luis Miguel De Camps García, announces a 102% salary increase for workers in the sugar industry.


Overseas Press Club of America
Morton Frank Award, 2021


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The investigation team included Sandy Tolan, Euclides Cordero Nuel and Reveal’s Michael Montgomery. The show was co-produced by Reveal and PRX and was in partnership with Mother Jones, with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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