A More Sustainable, Ethical Sugar Supply Chain

Tracing the supply chains of most of the sugar consumed on the market is a sort of dicey (and often depressing) affair. And once you do enough digging, it becomes clear that sugar's cheap price on the market comes a pretty high human cost somewhere else.

Sugarcane is often referred to as the "hunger crop", given the low prices paid to the farmers and low earnings among workers.  The laborers that work to produce the sugar we eat often have to go without adequate food and nutrition - and that's often just the beginning of the problem.

 

Exploitation of Workers

The U.S. Dept of Labor officially lists 19 different sugarcane-producing countries that they've received reports of Child Labor and Forced Labor in their sugar production industries. One such country is the Dominican Republic, who is consistently among the top sugar exporters to the US. Interviews with Haitian migrant workers revealed all sorts of distressing details, like the consistent 12-hour work days and 7-day work weeks in dangerous work conditions. And often the company housing provided to migrant workers lacked basic amenities like electricity, consistent potable water, or functioning latrines. This information gets even more disturbing when you learn that half of the Dominican Republic's sugar plantations are run by the same corporation that sells very popular brands in the United States like Domino or C&H Sugar. (They're also one of the largest refiners of sugar, spend millions in Washington, and own growing operations in the United States that have the sorts of working conditions you thought stopped existing 100 years ago.) 

 

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Unfortunately, once the sugarcane is cut and has made its way to the refinery, there are still plenty of opportunities for exploitation and negligence.One notorious story that exemplifies this comes from the other major sugar corporation the United States - Imperial Sugar. An infamous dust explosion in one of their refineries back in 2008 killed 14 workers and injured 36 more, several with horrific second- and third-degree burns. Subsequent investigations found that Imperial Sugar had known about the potential dangers of explosions in their refineries for decades, and even had previous small factory fires that had broken out in the past that they swept under the rug. The investigation even turned up internal company memos stating that the dust combustion problem was an inevitable danger, but they did nothing for years, allowing their workers to continue to work in conditions that the owners knew may result in grave consequences. 

 

A Sweeter Way

Though we've just scraped the surface, it's pretty clear that the people who actually work to produce the sugar we consume every day are not getting their fair share of the wealth generated by it. In fact, they seem to get the short end of the stick at every turn.  Origin Sugar is looking to change that.

Over the last year, we've been reaching out and working to develop relationships with small farms and co-ops that produce unrefined sugar. The "traditional raw sugar", unrefined sugar is a handcrafted sugar that retains all the natural molasses content found in sugarcane, giving it a deep, rich flavor that changes depending on the climate and region it was grown in. These types of sugar are mostly unheard of in the United States, but have huge culinary potential compared to the flat, dead sweetness of normal refined sugars. But because they're not yet widely-known, they remain out of the hands of the same large corporations that plague the market today.

By connecting with the people who actually produce the sugar, we're hoping to offer a new type of supply chain to the sugar industry. And hopefully, begin to restore a little bit of economic justice to the world.

Learn more about our current line of sugars here.