VinPro Chairman, Abrie Botha

VinPro will act where required, but queries farm worker report

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"Show us who does it and where! If some of our members are guilty of malpractices towards their farm worker communities or allow inhumane living conditions, we want to identify them so that we can address it."

This was the reaction of VinPro – the representative organisation of South Africa’s 4 000 wine grape producers – to the Human Rights Watch report regarding alleged ill-treatment of farm workers.

VinPro agreed in its press release with organisations such as Agri South Africa and Wines of South Africa (WOSA), who question the credibility and balance of this organisation’s contentious report. However, VinPro took a strong stance against any possible cases of farm worker exploitation and allowing substandard living conditions, wherever it might exist within the agricultural sector – both within and outside the wine industry environment.

VinPro Chairman Abrie Botha said, “If we can be convinced of the merits and methodology of this research and obtain accurate information regarding possible minorities who might still be damaging the wine industry’s name, we will act against the perpetrators as forcefully as possible, or do everything in our power to expose and discredit them.”

However, the organisation also expressed its disappointment and shock regarding the one-sided and unfair nature of the report, which is currently making waves in the international media – this at a time in which the wine industry is under critical pressure due to low profit margins and the global recession, resulting in the livelihood of 60 000 workers on wine farms and in cellars being under threat.

According to Botha, the wine industry had especially taken the lead with regard to the upliftment of its farm workers in recent years and has supported all structures and organisations who actively addressed these issues. This is currently also the case with the campaign against the so-called “ales problem”, whereby cheap, low standard sugar-fermented alcoholic concoctions are taking their toll on farm workers and their socio-economic conditions. For the same reason, the wine industry drove the abolishment of the so-called “papsak” (foil bag) industry via legislation in 2007.

Leading empowerment initiatives from wine industry ranks are also barely mentioned in the report, e g VinPro’s establishment of a BEE advisory service four years ago.

VinPro has doubts about the basis and balance of the 96-page report with the emotive title Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa's Fruit and Wine Industries. “According to our information only a third of the 60 farms included are those of wine producers. Human Rights Watch probably let themselves be led by activists with their own agendas, to the worst cases of questionable living conditions.

According to the authors the report was based on interviews conducted in 2010 and 2011 with more than 250 people, including 117 current or former farm workers and 16 other farm occupants. This does not give a sufficiently comprehensive representation of conditions throughout the industry, and is therefore potentially misleading.

The allegation in the report that producers do not provide enough protection when they work with pesticides, is an example of the report’s questionable approach, as the eco-sustainable principles of the internationally leading Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) initiative is not mentioned.

In its role as prominent employer and driver of upliftment at all levels, the wine industry should be judged fairly and not be undermined by allegations that are based on seemingly haphazard, anecdotal testimony and in all probability a flagrant exaggeration of reality.

VinPro, also via its formal association with Agri SA, adheres to all national legislation and international agricultural norms and standards and requires its members to do the same. Where problems do exist, the organisation is committed to addressing them – even to the extent of having VinPro membership suspended.

For more information contact VinPro executive director, Jos le Roux, at tel +27 (0)21 807 3322, e-mail lerouxj@vinpro.co.za.


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