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A Social Harvest for the South African Wine Industry in 2002

21 Jan 2002 by JR

Just received the following press relase from the Ethical Trading Initiative which suggests that things are going in the right direction in the South African wine industry.

As the South African wine industry returns to work after the Christmas holidays and prepares for the imminent 2002 vintage, prospects are good for a harvest of long-term social improvement in the sector. South African wine now accounts for 7.5 per cent of all wine sold in Britain, which takes almost 50 per cent of all South Africa’s wine exports. During that period, and with the weight of that considerable market leverage, British supermarkets, trade unions and NGOs engaged in the UK-based Ethical Trading Initiative, working with their respective South African partners, have been testing methods of credible workplace monitoring in the wine industry in the Western Cape. Now a new body is to be established in South Africa to carry the work forward.

Workplace monitoring against the Ethical Trading Initiative’s code, which is based on the labour standards of the UN’s International Labour Organisation, has up to now scrutinised a small, but intentionally diverse, number of suppliers who volunteered for the pilot. Teams combining relevant knowledge, skills and languages from the various stakeholders involved produced the reports jointly. Building on the quality of the results and the trust developed between the partners in the pilot, discussions are now under way between them in South Africa to establish a new not-for-profit industry body which would monitor conditions and promote sustained improvement in all the wineries exporting to Britain.

ETI members have concentrated their monitoring pilot schemes in agriculture and garment manufacture, recognising the particular problems working people face in those sectors. Improvements made as a result of the South Africa wine pilot include increased compliance with national legislation on workers' rights, including discrimination and social security; occupational safety and health including pesticide handling and ending subsidised wine sales; and housing quality and access. A legal minimum wage for agricultural workers is to be introduced in 2002.

Bernard Fontannaz, manager of Sonop Savisa wine farm, part of African Terroir in South Africa, said 'we are wholly behind this new initiative. Nothing but good has come to our company from its engagement in the ETI pilot. It is good to know what we are doing right, but also to identify what we need to improve. Now we want to share what we have learnt with other companies in our industry here.'

Simon Steyne, Pilot Chair and an international officer of the British Trades Union Congress said, 'the TUC proposed this pilot to the ETI because of our long-standing relationships with our South African colleagues, and our commitment to the new democracy and a better life for all South Africans. The relationships developing between the social partners in the industry through their work in the pilot offers prospects for social dialogue that can be a vehicle for sustained improvement for workers and their families. The TUC’s view is that modern industrial relations lead to better training, conditions and wages and to more competitive companies and quality products. It’s win-win.'

Nicky Taylor, Pilot Coordinator in South Africa, said 'There is still much to do. But if the new body can roll out our inspection methods to a much larger number of employers and if the British supermarkets stick with us and ensure that improvement programmes are implemented in their supply base, we can really contribute to social upliftment in the Winelands.'

Dr Sharon McClenaghan, Senior Policy Adviser at Christian Aid said 'Christian Aid and its partners have long campaigned for better labour standards in global supply chains. We are keen to grasp the opportunity to work with our South African partners to build the foundations of trust on which this new body must be based.'

Addressing the tenth anniversary celebrations of the Stellenbosch-based Center for Rural Legal Studies, Minister of Labour Shepherd Mdladlana said 'Innovative ways such as the ETI can ensure that legislation and other advances that the new government has introduced will make a difference on the ground and that it is reflected in the lives of workers at that level.'

Alan Roberts, Chair of the ETI Board and Group Business Standards Director of Littlewoods, concluded, 'Workers' rights and conditions in agriculture need improvement in many countries. The historical legacy in South Africa poses particular challenges. The ETI Board is proud of the work that member companies and their partners have done with their counterparts in the Western Cape and I am convinced we have the opportunity now to make that difference on the ground to which Minister Mdladlana refers. My New Year message is simple – let’s get to work and make it happen.'

The Ethical Trading Initiative, established in 1998 as an independent, not-for-profit organisation, exists to identify and promote good practice in the implementation of codes of labour practice, including the monitoring and independent verification of the observance of code provisions. It is an alliance of companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and trade union organisations committed to working together to achieve that aim. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the working conditions of employees in companies that supply goods to consumers in the UK meet or exceed international standards.

More details at www.ethicaltrade.org or contact Dan Rees, Manager, ETI Secretariat, Ethical Trading Initiative, 2nd Floor, Cromwell House, 14 Fulwood Place, London, WC1V 6HZ (tel 020 7404 1463, fax 020 7831 7852, email dan.r@eti.org.uk).

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