SA Wine Industry's planned ethical seal, arguably a world-first

Monday, 7 May, 2012
Labour and producers in South Africa's wine industry are united in their backing of a programme to fast-track the implementation of fair labour practices on wine farms and in cellars.
The plan is to do so under the aegis of the Wine and Agricultural Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) that will monitor compliance.

Established a decade ago, WIETA is a local not-for- profit association that actively promotes ethical trade in the wine industry value chain through training, technical assessment and audits to assess compliance with its code of good practice. Stakeholders include producers, retailers, trade unions, NGOs and government.

The fair labour initiative, supported by foreign retailers, the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (FAWU), Sikhula Sonke, Women on Farms, as well as established industry organisations such as the SA Liquor Brandowners’ Association (SALBA), Wine Cellars SA and producer organisation VinPro, envisages the creation of an ethical seal that will testify to reasonable working conditions, based on rigorous and closely monitored qualification criteria.

This is believed to be a world-first amongst wine-producing countries.

Only those producers who meet the criteria set by WIETA will be entitled to use the seal on their wines. It is anticipated that the first seals will be granted later this year to currently compliant producers.

The WIETA code of good practice is premised on the base code of the International Labour Conventions’ Ethical Trading Initiative and also incorporates South African labour legislation. It precludes the use of child labour, asserts that employment should be freely chosen and that all employees should have the right to a healthy and safe working environment. Amongst the conditions it sets are that workers should have the right to freedom of association, a living wage and to be protected from unfair discrimination. Worker housing and tenure security rights should also be respected.

WIETA CEO Linda Lipparoni said: “By introducing the seal, we want to acknowledge and accredit wineries and farms that follow ethical practices and to protect them from any potential negative publicity resulting from those who flout the law.

“After almost 20 years of democracy and exposure of the country’s wine producers to international best-practice, we have reached a level of maturity where no abuses of human rights should be countenanced. The industry has no place for the few who, by perpetuating unfair, inhumane labour practices are tarnishing the majority who recognise that the ethical treatment of workers is both a moral and a legal obligation.”

Rico Basson, CEO of VinPro said the initiative was intended to increase the confidence in South African wines both domestically and internationally, and to capitalise on the industry’s global leadership in eco-sustainable production.

“Winelovers have the right to know the wines they enjoy have been made with respect for the environment and in accordance with ethical working conditions.

“Our industry has built a reputation for advancing environmentally sustainable wine production. Now is the time to match that reputation with an infrastructure to promote social sustainability. As a start, we need greater awareness and implementation of the law with both workers and producers understanding their rights and responsibilities,” he added.

Lipparoni said the fully traceable seal was being modelled on South Africa’s sustainability seal developed to promote awareness of the production integrity followed at every stage of the supply chain from vineyard to bottle.

She confirmed the fast-tracking ethical programme would be implemented in three phases, starting with the simultaneous training of workers, owners and management in labour law and the WIETA code of fair trading principles. All training manuals would be supplied free of charge by WIETA.

After the initial training phase, all producers would be required to complete assessment forms to determine their level of compliance and would be given further support from WIETA in taking the necessary steps to address gaps.

In the final stage of the process, producers would be required to pass a full WIETA audit, involving on-site inspections.

To be entitled to carry the ethical seal, brand owners would have to enter an annually renewable, legally binding agreement with WIETA. To ensure total traceability brand owners would have to identify all their suppliers. At least 60% of these suppliers would also have to be WIETA-accredited, with the other 40% would have to demonstrate that they were preparing themselves for accreditation.

Lipparoni confirmed that WIETA was also considering the recognition of ethical, health and safety audits undertaken by other recognised bodies to facilitate the accreditation process.

Basson added that the longer-term goal was to ultimately have a single seal, issued by the Wine & Spirit Board that would confirm both production integrity and fair working conditions, as well as certified wine of origin information, such as vintage date and varietal.

WIETA will be working with Wines of South Africa (WOSA) who will promote the new ethical seal, along with Fairtrade and Fair for Life, to trade and consumers.

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