In case you haven’t seen it, two days ago Human Rights Watch released a report entitled Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries that was sent out under a press release entitled South Africa: Farmworkers’ Dismal, Dangerous Lives. From the titles alone, this seems to be a very damning report on the ways South African winery and fruit farmers treat South African workers. www.hrw.org/news/2011/08/23/south-africa-farmworkers-dismal-dangerous-lives
I’d like to be clear that there are certainly abuses of workers that go on in South Africa – as there are of undocumented migrant workers who pick grapes and all other fruits in the US and almost every other country. Behavior of this type by any farmer, anywhere, is reprehensible, inexcusable, and worthy of global review and scorn. For that, I commend what HRW is trying to do. However, one of the reasons we chose to focus on South Africa as the initial source of great wine for our earth and people friendly business is because of all the tremendous efforts made in South Africa toward bettering the lives of workers.
No matter how wide-spread the report headlines make this abuse seem, it simply isn’t the case. If you read deep enough into the HRW report it is clear the cases they discovered are isolated. My personal experience re-affirms the same. And while any abuse is disgusting and unacceptable, the fact that the abuse seems to be isolated is an extremely critical point. By making it initially appear the abuse is wide-spread, the report has the potential to harm the very people HRW claims to want to help.
It is critical for American consumers to understand just how much effort and investment is made on a large majority of wine farms in South Africa because it would be a tragedy for those doing the right thing to suffer because of the abuses of a few.
Our wineries build pre-schools for workers’ children, pay for workers to get training, support alcohol abuse programs, build workers housing, create after-school programs for workers’ children, provide management training and set aside management positions for workers. Some even create ownership opportunities for their workers. None of them do so because they are required to. They make these often difficult investments even in a bad economy because they truly care and have a deep commitment to making the lives of their workers better.
All of those programs, and the people they uplift, will suffer if this report causes American consumers to stop supporting the wineries implementing the programs. In that way, I strongly disagree with the way the press release by Human Rights Watch was written, and feel compelled to write this in an effort to ensure HRW doesn’t accidentally harm many workers while trying to help a few.
We started Worthwhile Wine Company to give consumers confidence that our wines are of great quality and distinctiveness, and that they are also created with care for the earth and people. We rely on 3rd party certifying bodies and our own personal visits to wineries to ensure this is true. Every effort possible has been made to ensure you can buy our great wines with confidence that our great wines are made in ways that are making better lives.
So, please be an educated and discerning consumer. Please do not support products from companies that may be abusing workers. But it is also critical that you continue to support products of high quality that are investing their time and money in the hard work of improving other peoples’ lives. In the end that is the best way for you to make a difference in the world and ensure that the damage done by a few despicable people isn’t made worse.
As just one example of what is also going on in South Africa, please watch Mark Solms tell the story of what has and continues to happen on Solms-Delta wine farm.
Please contact me directly if you have any questions about our wineries or business practices.
Thank you for your continued support of our wines, and of the process of improving the lives of the workers at our wineries.