Sugar; Not So Sweet
Tourists flock the wealthy, coastal beaches of the Dominican Republic, spending thousands of dollars on a single
vacation. Little to the tourists’ knowledge, only a few miles inland sits a batey, a village that shelters the poor, unsanitary sugar-plantation workers. The workers are paid less than ninety cents a day, and struggle to survive in such harsh and deleterious conditions.

The Story

The workers originate from Haiti; the Dominican Republic’s neighboring country on the island of Hispanola. Rumors of high pay and clean batey.jpg working conditions are intentionally spread by employees of the company. Haitians hear of such promise and grow eager to work in the Dominican Republic in healthy and safe conditions. Haitians are desperate to escape the war of their own home. During the night, the Haitians are sneaked across the border and stripped of their citizenship documentations, making these new employees neither Haitian nor Dominican citizens. The Haitians arrive to the batey with hundreds of other miserable and starving workers. At dawn the next morning until sundown that night, the workers are cutting the sugar cane that sits on every American table

Disease in the Bateys
The workers live with their families in the bateys. The bateys are company-owned villages consisting of only a few houses and a fewKids_Picture_in_batey.jpg barracks and provide little care for the workers and their families. Residents face living conditions that lack running water, ele ctricity, nutrition, health care, and basic hygiene. Disease and a lack of health care for families’ results in infant mortality to reach strikingly high rates. Children suffer from many different diseases relating to malnutrition and parasitic diseases. A recent stu dy states that nearly 40% of children under the age of five living in bateys suffer from malnutrition, leading to a high rate of growth retardation. HIV/AIDS spread to the bateys as Haitians and other workers, who carry diseases, live in the batey. Currently, about 10% of workers in bateys carry HIV/AIDS.

A Haitian Worker

Haitians are illegally brought across the border during the night, and their citizenship to Haiti is removed from their Sugar_Worker_Picture_NY_TIMES.jpgpossession, making these new Vicini Family employees, neither Haitian citizens nor Dominican citizens. The workers are brought to the bateys, where they cram into small barracks with up to 50 people. A Haitian is now trapped, if he where to attempt to escape from the batey, he could either be shot by the armed guard or miraculously escape. If the Haitian does escape, the worker does not have citizenship documentations, so the Haitian would be thrown into jail by the Dominican Republic police, and months later be dumped across the border. The worker has returned to his home, but is no longer a citizen of Haiti. Only a few months will pass before the worker is then thrown in jail in Haiti, and is stripped of all his possessions. workers_michete.jpg


This graph shows the percentage of people below the poverty line in the United States, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. While the Dominican Republic still has a quarter of its population below the poverty line, the Dominican Republic shows promise and hope to the struggling and starving people in war-torn Haiti, which has 80% of its population below the poverty line.

This graph shows the different wages per day of an American farmer, a Dominican sweatshop worker, a batey employee, and the wage per day that is needed to live healthily in the Dominican Republic. A batey worker currently makes about three dollars a day, a fifth of the amount that is considered to be livable in the Dominican Republic.
This graph shows the percentage of exports from the Dominican Republic to its main export partners. About 73% of exports from the Dominican Republic come to the United States and almost 90% of the sugar cane that is cut by the batey workers. The sugar from the Vicini Family plantations is exported to the United States where it is mixed in with sugar that was grown and cropped by healthy and free people.

Take Action
  • Support the Infante Sano, a non-profit that provides health care to Dominican and Haitian mothers and infants.

  • Buy Fair Trade certified sugar and sweets made from Fair Trade sugar. Fair Trade sugar guarantees that the employees receive a fair price for their crops and are provided with vital needs. When you are buying sugar or products made with sugar look for the following symbols:
  • fair_trade.jpgee-logo.jpgRoll_sweet.jpg

  • I encourage everyone to watch The Price of Sugar, an extraordinarily moving, touching, and eye-opening documentary about a priest from Spain who moves to the Dominican Republic and bestows his life in the well-being of the batey workers. Spread the word to friends and family, in order to raise awareness about the struggles of the batey workers.


Dominican, 2006,

Dominican Republic, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, November 2007,

Jon Cohen, A Sour Taste on Sugar Plantations, Science Magazine, July 28, 2006,

Barbara L. Bernier, Sugar Cane Slavery: Bateyes in the Dominican Republic,

Beyond the Bateys: Haitian Immigrants in the Dominican Republic, National Coalition for Haitian Rights, January 8, 2005,

The Price of Sugar: About, Uncommon Productions,