Study finds premium label doesn’t always benefit workers

A recent study states that the industry employs around 300,000 individuals. The report says that the sector generates R10 Billion (more than US$550 Million) in export value each year. Although wine is not one of South Africa’s largest industries, it accounts for 1.1% of South Africa’s GDP and 1.6% of its total employment. This makes it an important part of the economy.

The country’s wine-making industry during the colonial era and apartheid was characterized by the use of enslaved peoplethe exploitation of black and colored laborers, and paternalistic controls by white farmers. The black and colored workers lived and worked in the farms controlled by the white farmers.

As apartheid officially ended in 1994, it was expected that such relationships would change. To protect workers against exploitation, new labor laws were introduced. Nevertheless, remained concerned regarding the working and living conditions of the workers at the wine farms.

Fairtrade certification

Some South African wine farms responded to these concerns by applying for Fairtrade certification. Fairtrade certification ensures that consumers are buying products from ethically sourced and traded producers. Fairtrade certification should only be granted after an audit has been conducted to ensure that the farm’s social, economic, and environmental conditions meet minimum requirements.

Fairtrade products such as Fairtrade chocolate, coffee, or wine are sold for a higher price. A percentage of that sale is used to fund a Fairtrade Premium. This Fairtrade premium is meant to be used for projects that improve the lives of farmworkers, such as literacy programs, medical centers, or creches.

Read more: Why efforts by Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to help cocoa farmers haven’t worked.

If Fairtrade certification worked as intended for the South African wine industry, it could offer local producers improved entry into new markets while also supporting farmworkers’ developmental needs.

What is the truth?

In a doctoral thesis, we sought to prove this. This study is important because it focuses on farmworker experiences on commercial wine farms. The majority of Fairtrade products come from small producers that are organized into cooperatives. In the case of South African Fairtrade Wine, however, most commercial farms have been certified.

Other researchers have also pointed out that the decision to extend Fairtrade to South African commercial vineyard farmers was controversial. These farmers are mostly white and wealthy, not the usual producers of Fairtrade-certified products.

This study will help you determine if the inclusion of these farmers is justified.

In 2020, as part of this study, interviews were conducted with key stakeholders of the wine industry and five Fairtrade farms.

All five farms have Fairtrade certification and are commercial farms. The farmworkers’ experiences suggest that, while the Fairtrade label on the wine bottles may be visible to the public, workers do not feel treated fairly. These findings cast doubts on the effectiveness and legitimacy of extending Fairtrade Certification to South African commercial vineyards.

Fairtrade’s stated Mission is

It is important to link disadvantaged producers with consumers, to promote fair trading conditions, and to empower producers in order to fight poverty, improve their position, and take control of their lives.

According to our study, this Mission isn’t being fulfilled on South African Fairtrade Wine farms. These farms do not empower workers to fight poverty or have greater control over their own lives.

What farmworkers have to say

The majority of farmworkers interviewed did not know that their farm was Fairtrade-certified. One farmworker had a thorough understanding of the Fairtrade audit and certification process, but her report suggests that it did not work as intended:

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