Promoting Diversity & Inclusion, Sustainability, Tolerance And Fair Trade, Leaving Behind a Colonial Past In The Wine Industry…
According to Top Wine SA and the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), South Africa is among the top eight wine producers worldwide, which make up for 76% of the world’s wine production, whilst Italy, France and Spain make up for nearly half of the production of the world’s wine. Being the 6th biggest exporter of wine after the latter countries, Chile and Australia, South Africa’s wine industry might be a unique pillar of past, present and future African export growth. As Hamlet Hlomendlini, Absa AgriBusiness Head of Agro-Processing, emphasized in a statement on the website of the Pinotage Association June 2022, despite that the COVID-19 crisis posed certain challenges on South Africa’s wine industry, the country remains among the ten most competitive players in the terrain of wine in the world. “[C]ontribut[ing] 4% of total global production, R55 billion to the local economy, and currently employ[ing] over [269,000] people, both directly and indirectly”, the wine industry has been described as a potential driver of economic and employment growth in certain localities such as Mzansi.
As data gathered by Statista shows, revenue from alcoholic drinks is projected to reach US$116,4m in 2022, while non-alcoholic drinks are estimated to bring in US$62,63m and hot drinks are projected to contribute US$14,69m. And as Hlomendlini reemphasizes, whereas the global wine production shrunk by 4% in 2021, South Africa was actually making profits. In the time frame of the next four years up until 2025, as data from Statista estimates, sales from alcoholic products will experience a slight increase, which might prove that wine is one of the more stable products on the South African market. With Hlomendlini suggesting that the Chinese market constitutes a particularly attractive export destination for South African high quality wine, it might be curious to further tap into the ‘geopolitics of wine’ amid recent times. But first, let us provide you with a little history about South African wines. South Africa has been told to be home to a huge variety of wine grapes with cultivars such as “Pinotage, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc” rounding off the image of what South African wine has to offer. As amfori, which positions itself as “the leading global business association for open and sustainable trade”, lays open in a 2019 publication about the ‘Environmental Hotspots in the South African Wine Industry’, South Africa’s history of wine dates back a few hundred years, namely to 1659, which marks the date the first wine was harvested and pressed.
The Colonial Past Of South Africa’s Wine Industry
With the Dutch having build the first settlements in South Africa in 1652, when Jan van Riebeeck, who had been commissioned by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), arrived in what would later become Cape Town, the first vines were planted in this area in 1655, and as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) lays out, of French origin. As the WIPO’s further remarks illustrate, the wine tradition was imported to South Africa from Europe. Whereas South African History Online (SA History) emphasizes that van Riebeeck came to the Cape of Good Hope with the order “to [not] colonise the region”, the wine tradition was carried forth by other Dutchmen such as Simon van der Stel, who is said to have planted “100,000 European vines” and passionately promoted ‘viticulture’ (‘winegrowing’) in South Africa. Having bought huge hectares of land in the “[S]outheast of Cape Town […] which he named after ‘Constantia’ (perseverance)”, the legacy of his viticulture efforts is well-known today, especially because quite some of the vineries of the Dutch colonial past have endured in South Africa up until today. One of these vineries is indeed the Groot Constantia wine farm, which was founded in 1685.
As the WIPO reminds, back a few hundred years ago, the Groot Constantia wine farm pressed wines, which had been “selected by people such as Napoleon of France, Frederick of Prussia and Bismarck of Germany”. But not only the Dutch, the German and the French had a direct or indirect impact on the wine industry in South Africa. After the British seized control of the country, efforts were made to improve the quality of South African wines due to their bad reputation abroad. After the “[establishment] the office of the Wine Taster in 1812”, the South African wine industry rapidly scaled-up its production levels and became a huge and stable influence in English markets and, after a few years, also in other regions. However, rather than extending the monetary gains of the wine production to the farming community, as Wayne Dooling writes in his book ‘Slavery, Emancipation and Colonial Rule in South Africa’, the “new entrepreneurial English merchant class” pursued their own benefit with the result that their families, which partially constituted intermarriages between the British and the Dutch etc., would own 41% of viticulture by 1825. Rather than being concentrated across various areas in Cape Town and beyond, wine production took place in only two districts (i.e. Cape, Stellenbosch) and “21 wine-farming families owned 3557 slaves between them”.
Racial And Gender Hierarchies Keep Dominating South Africa’s Wine Industry
Linked with the above, one may certainly claim that the history of wine in South Africa has been intertwined with the influence of settlers and colonizers, which may also remind of the importance to stand up for inclusive, fair and sustainable value chains as well as non-exploitative labour relations in the country’s wine industry today. As Kelle Howson claims in her doctoral thesis in 2019, the wine industry in South Africa still knows the divide between the wealthy and the poor very well: “While some wine industry players, including many who benefitted from apartheid, have […] gained from changes in economic policy [in South Africa], many wine industry participants still suffer under familiar patterns of exploitation”. Being faced with pressure under global competition, as Howson continues to explain, employment in the country’s wine industry has remained precarious for some over others. “Modernisation and globalisation”, as Howson says, have not really made South Africa’s wine industry more inclusive. Instead “ownership remains white-dominated and forms of neo-paternalism, antagonism, and disenfranchisement of workers persevere”.
As Gbejewoh, Keesstra and Blancquaert explain in their 2021 article ‘The 3Ps (Profit, Planet, and People) of Sustainability amidst Climate Change: A South African Grape and Wine Perspective’, until the 1980s South Africa’s wine industry depended on cheap black labour, which marked a continuation of earlier colonial power relationships. While “attempts […] to ‘modernize’ labor relations” were made during the Apartheid era, these efforts did obviously not serve to empower black communities and workers. While political changes on from the 1990s as well as trade sanctions are said to have positively influenced a variety of aspects, the researchers emphasize that various accompanying changes during recent decades (i.e. GFC, rising demand for high quality wines, supermarkets becoming the main buyers) have led to “contractation, casualization, and externalization of labor”, which however also already took place between 1950 and 2004, when “almost three million farm workers were evicted from farms […] and then rehired as casual and seasonal workers”. As the researchers continue to illustrate, employment in the wine industry in South Africa is precarious. Despite that the wages of farm workers increased in 2003, overall levels of employment decreased and a study from 2019 found that workers are facing violations starting with the lack of working contracts, a minimum wage, access to facilities and, still in quite some cases, protective clothing, compensation for injuries occurred at work and the protection from the exposure to pesticides.
The lack of trade union membership and the prohibition to hold union reps meeting on the work ground round off the image of the violation of the rights of farm workers in South Africa’s wine industry, which may explain why women farmers went out to protest in 2021 about their working conditions. As Colette Solomon, Director of the Women on Farms Project (WFP), explains, women farmworkers begin their day as early as “4:30 with preparing the household, before they go to the farm at 6:00 and return home at around 18:30”. They are not only burdened with wage labour, but also with household duties, which underlines their need for balance, for respect, for a fair wage and safe working conditions. But rather than being offered certain levels of employment security, as Solomon reemphasizes, women are being employed as ‘seasonal workers’ more frequently than men, which excludes them from being entitled to certain benefits and reinforces patriarchal dependencies and relationships between men and women in and outside the workplace. At the same time, similar to other farm workers, women farm workers are exposed to high-level health risks based on the contact with harmful pesticides which, as Karlien, a local farm worker, points out, proves how little employers in this industry care about workers’ health. As Carmen Louw, Co-Director of the WFP, adds, women do not only receive the least benefits for their work, they also are dependent on their husbands for housing. With most housing contracts being signed in the benefit of male partners or sons, employment should offer a certain level of much-needed independence and security, but it actually does the opposite.
Despite being “classified as essential workers […] they are the lowest-paid workers in the country together with domestic and security workers”, says Louw. As Gisela ten Kate writes on SOMO, the “[l]abour conditions in [the] South African wine industry remain appalling”, but rather than disengaging, supermarkets should “take their role in the supply chain seriously, to pay fair prices so that farmers can pay a proper wage”. With prices for bulk wine from South Africa being very low, countries that are involved in the supply chain and in bottling the wines (i.e. Germany, the UK and France) as well as countries which constitute final export destinations of South African wines (i.e. The Netherlands; ) should cooperate to lobby and set up effective strategies to achieve higher wages for local farm workers in South Africa, who are extensively dependent on their employer for admittingly inadequate on-farm housing and who have partially set up informal settlements in proximity to wine farms. As was revealed by Ivar Andersen on Arbetet.se, in 2019, a female farm worker, Claudene van Wyk, received barely €39 for working full-time for two weeks on a South African wine farm in the busy harvesting season, when employers demand even more from their female workers. Productivity, pace and heavy carrying, in other words, are not rewarded. It is expected from farm workers that they adjust to the conditions and the heritage of exploitative labour relationships that go back not only to the Apartheid era, but also to the 1800s.
Wages Need To Be Lifted And This Needs To Be Accompanied By Other Processes
In a speech on 8th February 2022, Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi, announced that under the National Minimum Wage Act 9 of 2018 (NMWA), “[f]armworkers are entitled to a minimum wage of R23.19 [€1,31] per hour” similar to domestic workers, which would have left van Wyk with at the least €104,8 after two weeks of regular full-time rather than high-season work, and with €209,6 for one month of full-time labour as compared to what BusinessTech has pointed out to be the average wage in Q1 2022, €1325.11 per annum. If employers paid farm workers this minimum wage, farm workers would rely on €44615.19 per annum, which would lift their income above that of non-agricultural workers and arguably align with the harsh conditions, however not the violations of workers rights, of their work. And whereas there are speculations that the average wage outside the agricultural industry in South Africa rests at way lower levels, this does not justify scaling down efforts towards the safeguarding of farm workers’ rights. South Africa’s economy is quite shaky. The state in which the country is currently in is alarming, especially considering the livelihood conditions of workers and unemployed citizens and youth amid the growing energy and inflation crisis. Amid these crises, it is of particular importance to find novel ways to solve multiple problems at the same time. As Gbejewoh, Keesstra and Blancquaert remind, in South Africa somewhat ‘desperate’ choices have been made. Rather than focusing on all three pillars of a future reform of the wine industry and the agricultural sector overall, choices have been made between the prioritization of profits, sustainability targets and worker welfare in the past two decades since South African wine has become overall less profitable as before. And while ten Kate from SOMO describes supermarkets as important players who can lobby for the rights of farm workers, it shall not be overlooked that they will also have to be more directly involved in this lobbying process themselves.
As the afore-mentioned researchers argue, “[i]n the context of social sustainability in climate change, there is a need to assess the effectiveness of schemes such as the Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association (WIETA), Fair Trade South Africa, and Sustainability Initiative of South Africa (SIZA) exclusively from workers’ perspectives”. The lack of their inclusion in such initiatives might not only render the latter ineffective, but also reinforce the issue that farm workers are ignored, when it comes to being heard and respected. General ethical principles, which the WIETA has established relate to the: 1.) ethical management of businesses; 2.) protection of young workers and the prohibition of child labour; 3.) the opposition against forced, bonded or indentured labour or modern slavery; 4.) provision of a safe and healthy working environment; 5.) the principle of freedom of association; 6.) opposition against unfair discrimination; 7.-14.) principles of fair treatment, decent working hours, fair remuneration, sustainable incomes, regular employment, housing and tenure security, social responsibility and community development, environmental stewardship. These principles are very important, but they do not explicitly mention the role which foreign companies and stakeholders, who are a part of the supply chain, may have in creating forums for the inclusion of farm workers in the advocacy for their right and intertwined decision-making processes at various scales. Especially as long as employers ignore farm workers, it could be relevant for external stakeholders to set up cross-national forums, wherein they can lobby for their rights and influence how supermarkets, for instance, negotiate with wine producers.
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