India's First Wine, Food and Hospitality Website, INDIAN WINE ACADEMY, Specialists in Food & Wine Programmes. Food Importers in Ten Cities Across India. Publishers of delWine, India’s First Wine.
Skip Navigation Links
About Us
Indian Market
Wine & Health
Wine Events
Retail News
Contact Us
Skip Navigation Links
Wine Tourism
Book Review
Photo Gallery
Readers' Comments
Video Wall
Media Partners
Ask Wineguyindia
Wine & Food
Wine Guru
Gerry Dawes
Harvest Reports
Mumbai Reports
Advertise With Us
US Report on Indian Market Released
Top Ten Importers List 2015-16
On Facebook
On Twitter
Delhi Wine Club
Wines of South Africa: Human Rights Study Questioned

Posted: Wednesday, 24 August 2011 14:03

Wines of South Africa: Human Rights Study Questioned

August 24: An investigation by Human Rights Watch finding the living conditions of South African wine and fruit farms dismal and dangerous with their earnings being among the lowest in the country, has been challenged by WOSA and several representatives who question the basis for the selection of interviewees and lack of independent verification or employer reaction to allegations, reminding one of the adage that the glass is half full or half empty depending upon who looks at it, opines Subhash Arora

Human Rights Watch (HRW) found the on-site housing unfit for habitation, exposure to pesticides without proper safety equipment, lack of access to toilets or drinking water while working and barriers to union representation, according to the report published by the Guardian yesterday. It also pointed out that the farm workers are among the lowest wage earners in the country.

South Africa has laws guaranteeing wages, benefits and safe working and housing for workers and other farm dwellers. But the government has largely failed to monitor conditions and enforce the laws, HRW claims.

Its 96-page report, ‘Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa's Fruit and Wine Industries’ alleges, "despite their critical role in the success of the country's valuable fruit, wine and tourism industries, farm workers benefit very little, in large part because they are subject to exploitative conditions and human rights abuses without sufficient protection of their rights."

Housing for some workers is claimed to be uninhabitable. Many workers live on farms with family members as part of their employment arrangement. Their land tenure rights are protected under legislation enacted in 1997. Yet more than 930,000 people are estimated to have been  evicted from South African farms between 1994 and 2004, claims the HRW.

South Africa's wine farms have a painful history. For centuries, workers were paid partly in alcohol in the so-called DOP system (it was implemented in 1793 and continued till independence in 1994 and is now illegal-editor), with dangerous health and social consequences. One of the warning signs legally allowed to be printed on the bottle of alcohol is ‘Don’t Drink and Walk’ as many times the workers getting the free wine and alcohol  get drunk and are liable to get knocked over by the passing traffic. HRW, however, found these payments had generally disappeared now.

South Africa is the world's seventh-biggest wine producer, filling the equivalent of more than 100 million (9-liter) cases  a year. The industry is mainly concentrated in Western Cape Province. International tourists enjoy tastings, cellar tours and weddings at vineyards amid glorious scenery between the beautiful towns like Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

Challenging the modality and objectivity of the Report, Su Birch, CEO of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), an Association of the producers, focusing largely on exports, commented, ‘most of the 260 farm workers interviewed were identified by unions and NGOs who have a vested interest in presenting the worst of cases. The report plays down the significance of the wine industry's substantial direct financial and indirect contribution to improving working conditions through WIETA, Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association and fair trade and empowerment schemes.” She rues that to all but the most serious readers, the report negates the work of those who should be allowed to stand out as role models to their peers.’

‘There are many farm owners who comply with all legislation and go way beyond it. For every poor house on a farm, I can show you loads of good ones and some exceptional ones. Wine farmers are currently providing housing for over 200,000 workers, representing an investment of billions of Rands. Our industry is working hard to correct the wrongs of the past, and we accept that there is much work to be done,’ she said.

South Africa has been ruled by whites for centuries till it won independence in 1994 from the British. Most of the vineyards are owned by whites as they have been passed down through generations of white owners. Workers are still invariably black or mixed race, although there are a growing number of black owned farms, especially co-operatives.

During a visit by a group of wine producers to India earlier this year, one of  them had taken umbrage to delWine reporting about the working conditions when her own winery in fact, claimed to be working substantially to improve them by setting aside a small amount per bottle towards improvement in their lot. Many of the producers I have met during my several visits to South Africa affirm with humility and emotions that the conditions have been, in fact, poor but they have been working consciously to improve them over the years-sending their kids to schools, looking after their health, giving them place to stay at the farm etc. being some of them.

With hundreds of years of subservience and only 17 years into freedom, the workers may have a long distance to go. The HRW report, despite the apparent histrionics in parts should act as a reminder to the government and the industry that a lot of work still needs to be done and   as Su Birch concedes  with matching rhetoric, ‘even one case of abuse is one too many.’

‘We condemn out of hand any and all human rights abuses on wine farms. 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. We call on the Government to partner the wine industry in accelerating reform and in rooting out problems,’ she concludes.

Birch voices the opinion of perhaps the whole South African wine industry when she says that ‘the report had the potential to do great harm to the industry that is already battling in the face of a strong rand and a protracted global economic downturn, without the benefit of the government support that its global competitors enjoy. Ironically, it could also jeopardise the jobs of the very people it claims to be championing.’

Subhash Arora



Chris Pohl Says:

Dear Subhash, With my knowledge of the South African Wine Farms and Farmers I find it hard to believe what I have read and would like to add my own observations dating back to the 1970 till recent May 2011. Many of the wine farms have their access roads toTasting room and sales points right there where the farm laborers living quarters are and it is visible to all and sundry that visit those wine farms. It is pretty decent - with all mod cons too. I am just hoping it does not become another racial issue which I had hoped we have left well behind us in 1994. I can also say that the family owned and run wine farms which are owned by white Farmers - from generations ago are making sure that their staff is well looked after as they are constantly under the scanner - audited by all kinds of organization, from fair trade to other. The company operated farms are just as well managed by their social responsibility attitude.I do not rule out there there may be isolated case - as every society as rogues - but in general it is a very questionable report and really to be taken with a pinch of salt. Su Birch is right and I wonder what my friends, Ken Forrester, Wim Braak, NC Krone, Mark Norrish etc reaction will be. Best regards Chris Pohl

Posted @ August 25, 2011 16:18


Want to Comment ?
Please enter your comments in the space provided below. If there is a problem, please write directly to Thank you.

Generate a new image

Type letters from the image:

Please note that it may take some time to get your comment published...Editor

Wine In India, Indian Wine, International Wine, Asian Wine Academy, Beer, Champagne, World Wine Academy, World Wine, World Wines, Retail, Hotel


Copyright©indianwineacademy, 2003-2020 |All Rights Reserved
Developed & Designed by Sadilak SoftNet