UK praise for South African ethical wine venture

Related tags South africa South african wine

A scheme designed to promote ethical labour practices in the Cape
wine industry has been praised by wine retailers in the UK, which
have also pledged substantial financial support.

Members of the UK retail trade have come out in strong support for the launch this week of South Africa's Wine Industry Association for Ethical Trade. They have also pledged financial aid to kickstart the new body that aims to implement and audit ethical labour practices and working conditions throughout the Cape's wine industry.

Charter members of the voluntary association include Wines of South Africa (WOSA), the not-for-profit organisation that promotes South African wines abroad, as well as some of the country's leading wine producers and wine growers, trade unions and NGOs.

The initiative comes after four years of collaboration among South African industry stakeholders to identify ways of advancing fair labour practices. Their collaboration included a pilot study among volunteer wine producers to test observance of a code of good practice based on the UK's Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI).

The association plans to appoint a CEO to assist in implementing its objectives, and also an accreditation committee of industry representatives that will develop guidelines for compliance and measures to monitor adherence.

This sets the initiative apart from others established to promote fair labour practice, where external firms of auditors oversee compliance, according to a statement from the organisation.

Dan Rees, director of the ETI, speaking at the launch of the association in Stellenbosch, the heart of the Cape winelands, said the members of his organisation were convinced the new body's multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary approach was the most credible, cost-effective and sustainable response to monitoring labour conditions in the wine sector of the Western Cape.

"If the association can be made to work, it will make the South African wine market unique. It could play a key role, not just in the export of wine and other products from South Africa, but in setting an example to others around the world."

Rees pledged on behalf of the ETI to provide bridging finance to the South African association in setting up its infrastructure. ETI members include the Co-operative Group, Tesco, Sainsbury, Marks & Spencer, Asda, Safeway, Somerfield and Waitrose, who together take up more than 40 per cent of South Africa's bottled wine exports.

Funding for the association is expected to come from membership fees as well as from the repatriation of funds to South Africa derived from the export of duty-free wines to EU countries.

In accordance with the EU-SA Wines & Spirits Agreement, South Africa is permitted an annual export quota to EU countries of 42 million litres of wine that is exempt from Customs Clearance Tax (CCT). Instead of the benefit of the reduction in import prices going to importers' agents or retailers, the UK importers and supermarkets have agreed to harness it for the good of the South African industry.

The UK trade has already committed a sum of £80,000 (€125,000) for 2003 to begin the implementation of the association's objectives.

CEO of WOSA Su Birch, who served on the working committee that drafted the association's code of conduct and is now a member of its executive committee, has called the initiative an important step in advancing human rights among workers on wine farm workers and elsewhere in the wine industry.

"Not only will workers be protected, but improved working conditions will also promote productivity and higher-quality performance which bodes extremely well for the industry as it seeks to strengthen its presence in global wine markets,"​ she said.

Ian Burgess, group quality assurance manager of the Co-operative Group, who also addressed the launch meeting, said the local body, through its understanding of domestic conditions, problems and culture was best placed to finding workable and sustainable measures for change.

"It shows a forward-thinking strategy that demonstrates the positive nature of the wine industry. This sets the local industry apart from others elsewhere,"​ he said.

The establishment of the association has also drawn praise and support from South Africa's Department of Labour, as well as from COSATU, the umbrella body representing organised labour in the country.

The body hopes to attract all wine growers and producers in the Western Cape, as well as wine retailers.

Related topics R&D Beer, Wine, Spirits, Cider

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