Grapevine Archive for HRW

This week there has been negative press coverage on the South African wine and fruit industries, following publication of a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based independent NGO. The report findings and the subsequent press comment paint a gloomy and sometimes shocking picture of conditions which cannot be condoned. Such criticism of poor performers within the industry should be welcomed, and we hope it will prompt the South African Government (some of the issues raised are rooted in local politics and history) to quicken the pace of change and to take firm action against unfair treatment.

It is, however, highly regrettable that so little space is given to acknowledge the very different, positive and proactive approach taken by so many responsible producers in The Cape. The report from HRW was based on interviews with a small sample of commentators and none of the offending producers are named. Inevitably, the reports are not necessarily representative and do not give a true reflection of the majority of the wine industry and the different sectors within it.

One positive paragraph among many negatives in the HRW report, brought to our attention by Cathy Brewer Grier at Villiera, does state:

“Conditions on farms vary, and not all farmworkers with whom Human Rights Watch spoke had encountered rights abuses. In a small number of cases, farmworkers and farm owners described full compliance with the law as well as a variety of positive practices by employers that went beyond the legally requirements. Some farmers give workers land to grow their own crops, pay the full cost of medical visits, provide free food to workers in the winter, or have set up trusts that benefit farmworkers. Farmers who provided these benefits to farmworkers noted that these efforts can be profitable.”

David Smith’s article in The Guardian on Tuesday highlights three “Exemplary brands”. One of these, M’hudi Wines, owes at least some of its success to the generosity of their neighbours, the Grier family at Society Chenin supplier Villiera, itself a shining example of an estate that goes far beyond the already high target industry standards on social and environmental issues.

School children at Thandi's Lebanon Farm

Another is Thandi Wines, the world’s first Fairtrade accredited wine brand and supplier to The Society for the last few years. On my last visit there I was shown around the still new crêche, which provides a clean, safe, and educationally and physically stimulating environment for Lebanon Village farm workers’ children (funded partly by Thandi, part by parents, and part from charitable donations, including funds raised by a UK school for new outdoor play equipment). Conditions in the village itself are modest by our standards, but they have improved dramatically and continued support from international consumers such as ourselves ensure that they will continue to do so. I heard that one of their students was studying nursing in Stellenbosch with a view to returning to establish healthcare on site; also that their brass band is in need of a baritone trumpet!

The outdoor play area at Bon Cap's crêche

Bon Cap, supplier of The Society’s Pinotage, is a small, family owned producer in Eilandia, Robertson, farming organically, and also providing a small crêche and a warm welcome for the farm workers’ children, without which many of their mothers would simply not be able to work. This costs the farm over 10,000R a month to run, funding two salaries. They have a small school on site too, and are installing solar panels in all farm workers’ cottages.

We seek to work with some of the numerous examples of responsible, warm, generous human beings in the wine industry in South Africa, who go the extra mile, believing that improving the lives, and in particular the education of their employees and their families now will lead to a better, more stable future for South Africa. To spoiled westerners, workers’ living conditions seem basic, but much has changed for the good. Outside of wine quality assurance, we do not conduct our own audit of producer practices in South Africa, nor in any other wine producing country or region, but we do visit most of our suppliers on a regular basis and welcome and encourage all positive social and environmental initiatives, in particular adherence to industry schemes such as WIETA and IPW and the new, as yet voluntary, Integrity & Sustainability seal (introduced from the 2010 vintage), and especially the many initiatives that go beyond these recognised industry standards.

It would be a tragedy if the recent negative coverage led to a boycott of South Africa’s wines. The Rand is strong, making much needed exports harder to come by, and it is only by selling their wines that responsible producers will be able to sustain a long-term future for their land, their families and the people they employ.

Jo Locke MW
South Africa Buyer

We invited some of our suppliers to comment on the issues raised by the report and their responses are below:

“Apart from the local IPW audit on Sustainability etc, my farm also has an International GLOBALGAP Certificate. It is audited annually by an International Body, CMI, based in the UK . Apart from good agricultural practices, it also audits workers’ working conditions on the farm, minimum wage audits and general well-being of workers on farms.

  • All our workers and their families live on the farm in their own houses, all with solar heating panels, proper bathrooms and amenities. They live free of rent, nothing deducted from their earnings etc. Further water is free (i.e. I pay for it) and they only pay 10% of their actual electricity bill, which equates to about £1.50 per month to them.
  • They all get payed above the minimum wage and work a 45 hour workweek, seldom overtime and if they do, get renumerated for it according to the law.
  • The women only work part-time on the farm, and if they do, toddlers are looked after for free at a local  creche. We pay the salary of the caregiver.
  • They get all their annual leave according to the law.
  • I provide free medical visits for workers and their immediate families to my local GP that I also visit , plus free medication from my local pharmacy. No burden on the National Health system. If need be, we also transport them free of charge, all hours of the day and night to the Hospital, seeing that ambulances are unreliable here and we live 25 kilometer from the nearest hospital.
  • We never give wine for free. But at our annual after harvest bash at the seaside we take a few bottles with, as well as a bottle with Christmas….. I don’t think that is out of line.
  • We actually have a waiting list of people that want to come and work here. Most of the people living on the farm, grew up with me here and call me on my first name.
  • Protective clothing for spraying is normal practice, and all our vines and fruit are sprayed with a closed canopy tractor.
  • All tractor and forklift operators are trained in a two year cycle, plus first aid is also lectured at least once a year.
  • All the workers are offered an free annual checkup free for High Blood, Cholesterol, Blood, TB and HIV if they want to. We have regular drug and alcohol information afternoons. Luckily we do not have any problems with that at the moment.

I suppose I can go on, but I have a clean conscience how my workers are treated.”
Fanus Bruwer, Quando Vineyards and Winery

“At Quoin Rock:

  • We pay our workers more that the average wage.
  • No workers live on the property, but we provide transport to and from work.
  • The only time our workers are allowed a taste of wine, is after some (not all) bottling, we let them have a taste (normal amount as at wine shows) of the new bottled wine.
  • We produce organic vegetables, chickens and eggs, that are sold to the staff at a lower than shop price.
  • Last year we had a workshop that interviewed all staff on a 1 on 1 basis, to find out whether anyone had a drug, domestic or alcohol problem, and helped where necessary with treatment and follow up visits.
  • We avoid using insecticides, and tractors have cabs to protect the drivers from any spay residual while spraying in the vineyards.
  • Staff receive training to operate machinery.
  • Any injury is treated as serious and medical treatment is provided by a Doctor in Stellenbosch.
  • It is company policy that all staff treat one another with respect.

“There’s probably a lot more to mention, but this should be sufficient to indicate that we do not violate human rights at Quoin Rock.  I find it unfair that HRW use a few bad farms and put the rest of South African wine farms in the same box.”
Doug Murdoch, Quoin Rock

Harvesting chenin blanc at Villiera

“I think the biggest problem is that they blew up the negative without reporting on many of the positive things that go on and the heading (“Ripe with Abuse”) is the worst part as that is all that most people read and it is bad and implies that it is common practice. To interview 260 people is not many (they could be form 2 or 3 farms but they are not saying so we will probably never know).  All we can do is to make 100% sure all our ducks are in a row….

“Those that are IPW audited get the new sustainability seal which is all about traceability, health and safety etc.   It is illegal to spray a vineyard without protection!

“As far as Villiera’s feelings:  we believe fault can be found with the treatment of labour all over the world, which is why ethical trade and fair-trade exist.  At Villiera we aim to ensure that our house is in order and in so doing, set an example.  We satisfy multiple ethical audits and we are WIETA accredited.   We know South Africa is heading in the right direction and feel that the good work should be acknowledged to balance any criticism of the country’s labour relations.”
Cathy Brewer Grier, Villiera

“It might be seen as a token gesture against all the controversy, but below is evidence of the £16,073 Richards Walford has donated in the past three years to the establishment and running costs of a crêche at Bon Cap, by reinvesting EUR1 monies that have been received as part of a duty kick-back arrangement between the EU and South Africa; monies that could have easily been allowed to fall to our bottom-line.

“We’ve been proud to be associated with this project and have been able to monitor its success on numerous visits to the farm.”
Richard Kelley MW, Richards Walford (UK agent for Bon Cap)

[The report] fails to identify the massive improvements in living conditions for workers in the wine industry over the past decade and also excludes mention of the enormous efforts and investments made by so many producers to improve the lives of their workers. Needless to say, Warwick upholds the most rigorous standards. We do not follow any prescribed codes but work on our own code of decency, on which we significantly over-deliver.

I have been very active politically on this front for almost a decade and was involved in originally establishing the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) initiative.
Mike Ratcliffe, Warwick Estate

“Tierhoek was established in 2001 in the post-aprtheid era, and has always taken the stand that well looked after workers are integral to the success of the business.

“We are members of the IPW scheme, which is in place to uphold the sustainability and integrity of winefarms.  All workers are paid above the minimum wage salary, all workers are educated on the safety of the farm environment, and all workers are encouraged to forward problems and issues to the manager, and duly resolve them.

“All workers receive free housing, with electricity and water provided, and all maintenance is upheld by Tierhoek. We also sponsor a garden competition that promotes sustainable edible planting, so that the families remain healthy, and can save money by eating their own produce.

“All tractor drivers and sprayers have the correct gear and protection, as stipulated by IPW, and receive free check-ups for blood testing and general health.  All workers receive protective clothing gear according to their work.

“Workers are frequently driven to the nearest town for supplies, and there is a  general supply shop on the farm.  We also sponsor the local rugby team, which consists entirely of farm workers, with jerseys and transport to and from games.”
Roger Burton, Tierhoek Wines

Categories : South Africa
Comments (3)