Tuesday, August 23, 2011

South African Wine Industry Rooted in Human Misery, Says Report

David Smith
The Guardian (UK)

Unsuitable housing, pesticide dangers and barriers to union membership catalogued by Human Rights Watch monitors.

There is no question of its flair for producing a world-class chenin blanc, cabernet sauvignon or pinotage at an affordable price. But the provenance of South Africa's wines is altogether less savoury, an investigation by human rights monitors has revealed.

Workers on the country's wine and fruit farms lead "dismal, dangerous lives," according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), which found on-site housing unfit for habitation, exposure to pesticides without proper safety equipment, lack of access to toilets or drinking water while working and barriers to union representation.

Farm workers contribute millions to South Africa's economy, with products that are sold in Tesco and other British supermarkets, yet they are among the lowest wage earners in the country, the group's report says.

Daniel Bekele, HRW's Africa director, said: "The wealth and wellbeing these workers produce should not be rooted in human misery. The government and the industries and farmers themselves need to do a lot more to protect people who live and work on farms."

South Africa is the world's seventh-biggest wine producer, filling the equivalent of more than 1.2bn bottles a year. The industry, concentrated in Western Cape province, contributes 26.2bn rand (£2.2bn) to the regional economy, according to a 2009 study. Tourists from around the world enjoy tastings, cellar tours and weddings at vineyards amid glorious scenery between well-heeled towns such as Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

South Africa has laws guaranteeing wages, benefits and safe working and housing for workers and other farm dwellers. But the government has largely failed to monitor conditions and enforce the law, HRW says.

Its 96-page report, Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa's Fruit and Wine Industries, alleges: "Despite their critical role in the success of the country's valuable fruit, wine, and tourism industries, farm workers benefit very little, in large part because they are subject to exploitative conditions and human rights abuses without sufficient protection of their rights."

Read the rest here.

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