Forced Labor in the Sugar Beet Fields

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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The politics of North American sugar also dealt with the challenge of recruitment for the arduous, relentless, and low-paid work of harvesting sugar beets. The Depression produced enough desperate people to man the fields. But World War II lured so many away to the military and better jobs that the sugar industry appealed for help. The American and Canadian governments responded by drafting workers from the ranks of conscientious objectors, German prisoners of war, and Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians. They classified the latter as “aliens” and shipped them to remote detention camps and, in 1942, to beet-sugar farms in the U.S. states of Oregon, Utah, Idaho, and Montana, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Manitoba. Then they promoted beet sugar as a “patriotic” commodity.