Human Rights in the Winelands

The recent paper published by the Human Rights Watch has made headlines in the wine world and has been picked up by some of the broader press. Wines of South Africa (WOSA) has put out their response to the reports, whilst the likes of Neil Pendock and Tim James have blogged from quite opposite perspectives.

We believe the allegations made are very serious and would like to state for the record the Vrede en Lust view re the report and the issues at hand. We pay our labourers well above market and minimum wage requirements. In addition they receive a 13th cheque. We have never used a ‘dop system’ on our farms and we fully adhere to all of the labour laws concerned.

We believe everyone should respect the human rights of all and the rule of law.

According to the HRW report, they interviewed 85 current farm workers, 32 former farm workers and 16 farm ‘dwellers’ out of a possible 121 000 farm workers. They thus based their conclusions on a sample of 0,1% of all farm workers. They visited 60 out of 6000 farms, a sample of 1% of the farms in the province.

It is not clear how these farms or farm workers were selected, but it does not seem like a random selection. One’s initial reaction to such a one sided, statistically weak report, is to discount it. However, in order to protect the persons that will suffer most harm from such a message, the farm workers, one has to deal with it.

It is a fact that not everyone complies with all laws passed by the South African (or any!) government. This does not mean that the government or the country is bad, only that the individuals who break the law are bad. It makes no sense to damn the whole wine and fruit industry due to the illegal behaviour of some farmers.

Any one who states that the South African government has done nothing to protect the workers in the wine and fruit industries has clearly not done their homework! The laws are there. It is possible that as in many other areas, the execution is often poor. That is easily fixed: get the right people in the right jobs!

There is a host of legislation that protects all workers in the country, with additional legislation that protects farm workers specifically. Some of the legislation is listed below, with the 2 pertaining specifically to farm workers in capital letters

2. Basic Condition of Employment Act
3. Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases
4. Employment Equity
5. Labour Relations
6. Occupational Health and Safety
7. Service Delivery
8. Skills Development
9. Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF)

The Dept of Labour audited Vrede en Lust on three previous occasions. During these inspections, all the farms employment contracts and safety procedures were inspected. We know that our neighbouring farms are subjected to similar inspections. The Dept of Labour has also inspected our farm in Elgin, where they even asked for the service record of an air compressor.

Local labour laws, far tougher than the USA equivalents, have resulted in the growth of contract labour. In addition, agriculture is a seasonal industry all around the world. We need 40 extra workers for 30 days per year to harvest, prune or plant. During the rest of the year we employ 27 permanent workers to perform the farm’s daily.

It would make no economic sense to employ 67 workers on a full-time basis basis! Just look at the Mexican migrant labourers in California’s vineyards or the Gypsies in the European vineyards, where the practices are applied.

The Government constituted the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to deal with labour issues, and give all parties equal access to a fair hearing. The workers have direct access to the CCMA or indirect access via one of the many legal aid clinics, legal recourse centers or trade unions.

Workers have access to free legal support if they feel that they are in any way being mistreated, underpaid or unfairly dismissed. All cases are reviewed, however frivolous. The farmer on the on the other hand, has to pay for any legal costs he will have to incur.

The Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) is a voluntary certification process for grape farms and wine cellars. Annual medical checkup of all workers involved with spraying any chemicals on the vines is a mandatory requirement and cellar workers undergo similar annual medical checkups.

Vrede en Lust and Casey’s Ridge are both certified as fully IPW compliant. Both farms have been audited, with Vrede en Lust audited twice in the last 5 years. All grape farms and wine cellars certified IPW undergo the same audits and inspections. Vrede en Lust ensures that all the farms we do business with are also IPW certified.

The economic realities

The South African wine industry is suffering in part due to the dual forces of extreme price pressure and an overvalued currency. The price pressure in the UK and European markets stem from very powerful supermarket buyers, European producers who receive massive subsidies from the EU and of course, a tough economy. South African wine producers get no subsidies from the government and have shouldered severe cost increases over the past decade.

The over-valued Rand is primarily the result of massive short-term cash inflows into our bond markets by US, European and Japanese banks chasing higher yields. They borrow money at close to zero interest at home and lend it out to emerging market countries at huge multiples.It won’t last but is a current reality.

Finally, South Africa is dealing with massive levels of unemployment. The hard economic realities of supply and demand will always prevail. When there are many more job takers than jobs, pressure on wages will exist.

Maybe useful to look at the way the Chinese economy grew and uplifted huge populations: extremely low population growth rates coupled with high levels of GDP growth = high GDP growth per capita. There is no other way such major transformation can take place.