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SWEDISH RESPONSE WOSA JULY 2013

31/07/2013

The Dagens Nyheter (DN)  report of July 18, on "terrible" working conditions on South African wine farms does not reflect the very encouraging progress made in promoting ethical and fair labour practices to date.  It appears to use as its primary source, the trade union CSAAWU, one of several organised labour organisations seeking to extend its membership amongst farm workers.

The accuracy of CSAAWU's claims is questionable, as pointed out below. Its assertions also have the potential to jeopardise the livelihood of rural workers in a country with an official unemployment rate of 25%.

Sweden is the country's fourth biggest wine export market. Any potential loss of trade could have a substantially adverse impact on the economy but more particularly on the people whose chances of alternative employment are virtually non-existent.

Eleven years ago, in the first initiative of its kind worldwide, the South African wine industry brought together producers, organised labour and retailers to find ways to accelerate the implementation of fair labour practices, establishing the Wine and Agricultural Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA).

WIETA is a not-for- profit association that actively promotes ethical trade in the wine industry value chain through training, technical assessment and audits to assess compliance with its code of good practice.

With around 50% of the country's wine destined for exports, the role of retailers, particularly foreign retailers has been crucial to the success of WIETA's work. Retailers hold the power to censure producers for not implementing good labour practices. They are also able to encourage compliance through their purchases and so protect jobs.

Systembolaget has been particularly active in this regard, promoting dialogue with producers, calling for and achieving change. In announcing its intention to make WIETA accreditation a  criterion for some tenders from next year, it is making an important contribution to the growth and development of a better work environment and working conditions. In fact, since the announcement of this plan in March, there has been a significant increase in the number of producers signing up for the training that is the start of the process.

There are currently 575 wine producers who have signed up with WIETA. This represents more than double the number registered a year ago. To date, a third of member producers have been fully accredited for complying with the WIETA code of conduct and this figure continues to rise, contrary to the impression created by your report, which claims no improvements in labour conditions over the past 18 months.

In 2012, WIETA launched an ethical seal testifying to reasonable working conditions on farms. The fully traceable seal serves as a guarantee to consumers that the brands they purchase, comply with a code of good practice. It is hoped within three years, at least 85% of all wines will carry the seal and brand owners are working hard to reach this goal.

South Africa is also the largest producer of Fairtrade wine in the world: two thirds of the 15,7m bottles of Fairtrade wine sold in 2011 were produced in the country with around 5% of the local wine grape production Fairtrade certified. The current 20 certified wine grape producers extend over 64 farms and almost 2 500 farm workers but including their families, positively impact the living and working conditions of over 12 000 people.

To thus tarnish the conditions on all South African wine farms as "terrible" is not only untrue but negates the palpable progress that is being made.

In its liaison with WIETA, CSAAWU, the very trade union making the allegations that appear to form the basis of your report, has shown an unwillingness to engage in solving problems. One of the farms cited for non-compliance by the union has been trying now for two years to have the CSAAWU sign a draft recognition agreement, despite the written undertaking of its union management to do so in 2011. Moreover, on this same farm, a  June 2013 audit shows payslips for workers reflect above minimum wages paid to staff.  Rentals average 8% of wages but do not exceed 10%.  The property maintains a skills centre, crèche and after-care centre for school-going children, at no charge to the workers. The WIETA Accreditation Committee has found the farm to be fully compliant in the areas of housing, a living wage and fair treatment.

The response to your article is not intended to condone incidents of unfair practices, which the industry agrees must be eradicated but surely it deserves fair coverage in a country that promotes freedom of speech and the acknowledgement of progress that is being made?