Human Rights Heroes
Father Christopher Hartley
Father Christopher Hartley grew up in a wealthy family in England, and chose to become a priest at the age of 15. He worked for many years with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and with Latino immigrants in the Bronx in New York.
From 1997 to 2006 he worked to expose and improve the working conditions on the Haitian sugar can workers in the San Pedro de Macoris region of the Dominican Republic. The immigrant workers, many of whom came to the Dominican Republic unable to find work at home, worked for twelve hours a day at the back breaking work of cutting sugar cane, and living in deplorable conditions. At the end of a twelve hour day, most had made barely enough to eat, and had nothing to send home, and no means of going home.
Hartley’s activism to improve living and working conditions of the Haitians on the sugar plantations brought him into confrontation with the Vicini family, owners of the largest plantations in the region and one of the wealthiest and most influential families of the Dominican Republic. When his work became the subject of a documentary, The Price of Sugar (2008), the Vicini family hired top D.C. lawyers in an unsuccessful attempt to stop release of the film.
In 2006, under pressure, the Bishop of the Dioceses suspended Hartly, then had him transferred. Today, working from Europe, he continues to advocate for the rights of the Haitian immigrants. He recently helped draft the Better Sugarcane Initiative which encourages fair trade for sugar.