grape industrySouth Africa, a country located at the southern tip of Africa and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, is home to a vast number of grape plantations. Many of the grapes that come from these plantations are used to make wines first-world consumers enjoy. Popular brands include Capensis Chardonnay, Porseleinberg Syrah, and Ernie Els Signature Blend. But as delicious and luxurious as these wines may be, the grape industry they come from are using unfair labor tactics.

Unethical Conditions

A 2017 study done by Vinmonopolet, an alcoholic beverage retailer in Norway, exposed numerous grape plantations in South Africa where farmers were working under unethical conditions. These conditions include the following:

  • Facilities that lacking regular health and safety checks
  • Employees experiencing verbal harassment and physical harassment
  • Facilities not issuing employees with employment contracts
  • Employees being paid below minimum wage
  • Employers prohibiting employees from joining trade unions
  • Exposing workers to dangerous pesticides
  • Scheduling workers for 12-hour days with no overtime payment

While it is common for reporters to label these unfair labor tactics in the grape industry as “modern-day slavery,” many people do not ask why these exploitative practices from the past still exist. Seeking to start that conversation, the District Six Museum was founded.

Changing the Grape Industry

Built in 2017 in the South African city Cape Town, the District Six Museum’s goals are threefold:

  1. In order to understand how exploitation in the wine industry perpetuates itself, one must have knowledge of what came before.
  2. The first step to challenging the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry is to have conversations about the intergenerational trauma ingrained within this ongoing exploitation.
  3. Colonial-era methods and mentalities continue to influence current labor practices.

As tourism expands in South Africa, so does the wine industry. It is common for tourists to take advantage of the delicious wines during their stay. However, as the District Six Museum notes, the majority of tourists are clueless when it comes to both contemporary and historical unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. Through advocacy and bringing about awareness, the District Six Museum is working to change that.

Being fully aware of what the District Six Museum exposes, Fairtrade Africa, a nonprofit organization that represents all Fairtrade-certified products in Africa, is working to end the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. Established in 2005, this nonprofit fights for the rights of all African harvesters — whether they be in the grape industry or not.

Through advocacy and various projects, Fairtrade Africa had many successes in their effort to combat the unfair labor tactics in the grape industry. For example, Fransmanskraal, a farm on the South African Western Cape province that supplies grapes to Place in the Sun Wines, was able to use the premiums they received from Fairtrade Africa to improve the quality of their educational and recreational facilities. These premiums, which are not aid but are generated from business transactions, gave school-aged children the opportunity to attend school in their hometown, to participate in local sports matches and to improve nutrition by building vegetable gardens. The premium even helped one woman named Alvercia Juries attend and graduate from the University of Western Cape, making her the first college graduate in the Fransmanskraal community.

Another project Fairtrade Africa took on in the grape industry was reducing the use of coal to generate electricity in the Stellar Organics wine cellars. Western Cape, where Stellar Organics is located, can get very hot during the summer months. That is not good because wine needs to be kept at a certain temperature in order to be made just right. This is why Fairtrade Africa helped improve the insulation of Stellar Organics’ wine cellars, so they wouldn’t have to use so much coal to keep their wines at the right temperature. Ultimately, this allowed them to save electrical costs, be more environmentally sustainable and enhance the quality of their fair-trade products.

Fairtrade Africa encourages advocacy aimed at ending unfair labor tactics in the grape industry and is always accepting donations.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Wikimedia Commons