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SA wines take a fair step in the ethical direction

Scandinavians seem to care more, or at least express it more loudly, about the ethical production of South African wine than do most local wine lovers. But for those who care about it, there will soon be a clear sign on bottles to show that at least a minimal standard of labour rights has been observed.

The Wine and Agricultural Industry Ethical Trade Association announced last week that a sticker would be produced for wineries that passed its audit.

The association has been around for a decade, in an underfunded, lacklustre sort of way, but its time has now come, prefigured negatively by the highly critical Human Right Watch report on the Western Cape’s wine and fruit industries last year. The tales the report told of the winelands in the supposedly new South Africa were not pretty.

Although much of the industry was more than indignant about the report, just about everyone listening to the international rumblings, fearful for exports, realised that something had to be done ­— and seen to be done.

This is it, and it looks like a good thing and something that will work.

Backing the initiative are the significant trade union in the industry, the Food and Allied Workers’ Union, and several long-time, committed non-governmental organisations such as Sikhula Sonke and Women on Farms. More significantly, from a success point of view, the big-boy organisations in the business have put their names behind it.

The association’s audits are based on codes such as those of the International Labour Organisation and the Ethical Trading Initiative, as well as South African labour law, including wage determinations — pathetic as the agricultural official minimum wage is.

Beginning to end

One of the strongest accusations in the Human Rights Watch report was that the state was not enforcing its own regulations. Auditing by the association will certainly help in this regard. A vital recent amendment to the audit is that the supply chain of grapes bought in by large producers will now be checked along the whole way, not just the conditions at the wineries. A full account of the process and of the new initiative can be found at wieta.org.za.

The list of producers accredited by the association under the old version of the rules is remarkably small, though undoubtedly many, if not all, the better-known estates largely comply and, it is to be hoped, will soon pass this test. Significantly, most of those already accredited are in fact large wineries, such as Durbanville Hills, Spier and Robertson, which have for some time now been required to prove their respectability, especially by Scandinavian importers. Fairtrade accreditation is, of course, another means to this end.

Over the next few years the number of wineries seeking accreditation — some perhaps initially to be dumbfounded by how short of the standard they fall — is likely to grow enormously, presuming that the new “certified fair labour practice” initiative works as it should.

Even before the initiative was announced, there was movement in this direction.

Franschhoek seems to be in the lead — it was recently decided that all 48 members of the Vignerons de Franschhoek wine route and their suppliers will be required to undergo association auditing and receive accreditation. Congratulations to them and — how nice to do it — provisional congratulations to the South African wine industry on a move in the right direction.

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