Unimaginable damage

It's wrong to boycott South African wine, and it won't help farmworkers

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Su Birch comments on the Guardian's damaging boycott poll.

Your article addressing the recent strikes in South Africa implies that workers in the wine industry are involved in the unrest (Don't buy South African wine: striking workers' plea to foreign buyers, 25 January). This is not the case and has the potential to do unimaginable damage to an industry that is working hard to ensure the ethical treatment of workers.

The article states: "Unions and charities supporting the Western Cape's 500,000 farm workers say pay and working conditions are so bad that South African wines, table grapes and Granny Smith apples should be as unacceptable to the responsible British consumers as they were under apartheid." The prominence given to the views of the union Bawusa and its boycott call is saddening. Our industry supports the Wine and Agricultural Industry Ethical Association (Wieta) and fair trade; and the ANC and the Congress of South African Trade Unions have actually called for an end to the strikes.

To date, there is no evidence any of the protests have involved workers employed on wine farms. And in any case Bawusu represents only a tiny proportion of wine farm workers, about 2.3%. In the article, Bawusu spokesman Nosey Pieterse is quoted as saying: "In the first 10 years of democracy, the wine industry grew tenfold, from 20m litres' output before 1994 to 220m litres." His figures are wrong: in fact South Africa exported 417 million litres of wine in 2012; but exports in wine do not always equal profits.

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