South African wine farmers are being subjected to dismal working and living conditions, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Their 96-page report, Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries claims that workers are subject to inadequate housing, pesticide dangers, lack of access to toilets and drinking water and barriers to union representation.
However Wines of South Africa (WOSA) have challenged the allegations made in the report. CEO of WOSA Su Birch claims that the assertions seem to be based on ‘random anecdotal evidence’.
She said: ‘Our disappointment in the bias of the report is in no way an indication of our support for inhumane practices. It expresses our concern that trade and consumers all over the world could become alienated from South African wines.’
Birch added: ‘Ironically [the report] could jeopardise the jobs of the very people it claims to be championing.’
HRW’s Africa director Daniel Bekele has said that the answer is not to boycott South African products but instead for retailers to press their suppliers for acceptable working conditions.
Birch highlighted the reports failure to acknowledge organisations such as the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) and Fairtrade which aim to improve working conditions. South Africa can in fact boast the highest number of Fairtrade-accredited wine producers worldwide, according to Birch.
She also points to Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) which got no mention in the report. IPW’s eco-sustainable principles set clear guidelines regarding the use of the pesticides and the need for worker protection.
Written by Madeleine Pitt