UK media: Danish Supermarkets removing South African Wines following slavery accusation

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Danish Supermarkets are removing South African Wines from their shelves following the outburst created by the airing of the film, “Bitter Grapes—Slavery in the Vineyards,” on national television. The film produced by Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann brought to light the inferior working conditions of farm workers in South Africa’s wine province. These workers are treated shoddier than slaves, with dilapidated living conditions, long working hours in exacting weather and are exposed to toxic pesticides day long. The workers were paid in alcohol rather than money, which was equivalent to the dop system existed in the apartheid-era.

Supermarket chain Dagrofa has pulled products from the Robertson Winery, featured in the film as among the worst abusers.

The Times: Sweden rejects ‘dop’ system

A storm is brewing in the Swedish parliament over the controversial stocking of South African wine.

By: Tanya Farber

The Minister of Public Health Gabriel Wikström has publicly declared he is boycotting products from Robertson Winery after a scathing documentary – Bitter Grapes: Slavery in the Vineyards – was shown in Sweden last week, revealing the living and working conditions of wine-farm workers.

And Systembolaget – a government-owned chain of liquor stores – has come under fire for not removing Robertson Winery products from its list.

The chain, relied on to ensure all imported beverages it purchases are ethically sourced, said it did its “own audits” of the farms.

In Sweden South African wine is the second-most popular and in Denmark imports have grown by 78% in a decade. The Scandinavian region consumes 50million litres of South African wine a year.

A study published by the SA Wine Industry Information and Systems last year showed the industry contributed R36.1-billion to the country’s GDP.

Wikström said in response to Systembolaget’s continued stocking of the products: “This is shocking for me as a representative of a government that always stands up for workers’ rights and drives those issues at global level.”

Farm workers at Robertson Winery have been on strike for the past two months. They are demanding a monthly salary of R8500. They also want a joint committee to investigate the alleged violation of workers’ rights.

Tom Heinemann, the documentary maker, said the crisis in the Swedish parliament pointed to a crisis in Systembolaget.

“When a Swedish minister of public health officially rejects buying certain brands of South African wine I believe this must cause some turmoil inside Systembolaget’s executive leadership,” he said. “It’s a mystery that the top brass from Systembolaget have been totally numb on this serious crisis.”

Robertson Winery has criticised the documentary, calling it a “very one-sided picture of a very complex situation”.

The film contains interviews with more than 15 sources and describes widespread violations of labour laws, including workers receiving R105 for a 12-hour shift, exposure to toxic pesticides without protective gear or training on how to use the chemicals, shocking living conditions, deductions of up to 80% from wages and an unofficial “dop” system.

Cape Talk radio program: ‘Bitter Grapes’ doccie causes ripples in Denmark

(Listen to the full podcast here)

Bitter Grapes – Slavery in the Vineyards was produced by Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann and was broadcast in Denmark and Sweden this past week.

Some supermarkets in Denmark have removed South African wines off their shelves. The move follows the screening of a documentary which focused on the working conditions of farm workers in South Africa. The short film also included the destitute livelihood farm workers in South Africa are exposed to.

Christo Conradie – VinPro Wine Cellars Manager responded to the film

The Sunday Times South Africa: SA wines pulled off Danish shelves after doccie on slavery at vineyards

Supermarkets in Denmark have started taking South African wines off their shelves following a scathing documentary on conditions for farmworkers at some of the country’s top wine estates.

By: Tanya Farber – The Sunday Times

The documentary, Bitter Grapes – Slavery in the Vineyards, by Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann, was aired in Denmark and Sweden this week.

South Africa is the second most popular country of origin for wine sales in Sweden. In Denmark, imports have soared 78% over the past 10 years. The Scandinavian region consumes 50million litres of South African wine a year.

According to a study published by the South African Wine Industry Information and Systems last year, the industry contributes R36.1-billion to South Africa’s GDP.

Heinemann told the Sunday Times that he had a hostile reception from wine estates when they learnt he was making a documentary. “I don’t want to shake your filthy hand. You are a disgusting piece of rubbish,” he quoted one estate owner as having said.

The film describes widespread violations of labour laws, including workers receiving R105 for a 12-hour shift, exposure to toxic pesticides without protective gear or training how to use the chemicals, shocking living conditions, deductions of up to 80% from wages and an unofficial dop system.

“My hope is that the documentary will create a debate among all stakeholders into how honest improvements can be made in the vineyards. As it is right now, much needs to be done,” said Heinemann.

Early next month it will be shown in Norway, and Heinemann is in talks with British and other broadcasters to air an English version.

Already Dagrofa, one of Denmark’s biggest supermarket chains, has pulled some wines off its shelves – including products from Robertson Winery, where a strike over working conditions is in its second month – and others are likely to follow.

Trevor Christians, general secretary of the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers’ Union , said owners of wine estates wanted to hide the truth. Conditions for farmworkers resembled slavery, he said.

Heinemann criticised the Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trading Association, a local organisation set up to ensure fair labour practices. Foreign retailers rely on its stamp of approval.

“There seems to be a conflict of interest on the board,” Heinemann said. ” With nine board members, five are from the industry itself.”

He cited the example of Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards, whose wines carry the association’s stamp of approval.

Despite this, Heinemann said, he obtained certified copies of workers’ payslips which showed earnings below the minimum wage.

Association chairman Mzukisi Mooi said the board had 10 members, whereas documentation supplied to the Sunday Times by Heinemann names nine members, as does the organisation’s website.

According to the website, three members represent unions and the Women on Farms Project NGO. Others represent producers, Wines of South Africa (an industry body that promotes exports), and the South African Liquor Brand Owners Association.

Mooi said the organisation “welcomed criticism” unless it “derails efforts” which required delicate and lengthy discussions between owners, trade unions and nonprofits.

He did acknowledge, however, scenarios of “producers and growers who tend to hide behind parapets rather than being more transparent, engaging and compliant”.

Robertson Winery labelled the documentary as a “one-sided picture of a very complex situation”. The film was “doing more harm than good, risking valuable jobs by wrong accusations”, it said in a statement.

“That three out of 3,300 farms would be representative of the wine industry is unreasonable.”

Western Cape economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde said the department would investigate the documentary’s allegations.

VinPro, a mouthpiece for the farm owners and producers, criticised in the film, saying much “progress has already been made in terms of the conditions of farmworkers”. It called the film biased.

Pieter Carstens, Leeuwenkuil’s head winemaker, said an intense investigation by “third-party auditors” had been conducted and the wine estate was cleared of any wrongdoing.

“We were not breaking any South African laws,” Carstens said.


“Piece” worker (casual labourer) from Lesotho who gets on average R60 a day: “There are many workers who are affected by the pesticides – we get allergies and rashes. I know what I earn is not legal. But what can I do? It is very hard work and I have to be quick if I want to earn R60 a day.”

Deneco Dube, paralegal adviser to farmworkers’ union CSAAWU: “The farmers don’t like unions. They will find the leader of the union, or someone speaking out on behalf of the workers. Lawful or not, he will dismiss them. He believes that when you cut the leadership’s head, the whole body is nothing any more.”

One worker who approached a farm owner about dirty drinking water on the farm: “I have raised my concerns about the water problems on the farm. He said if I am not going to do what he says, I must resign and leave the farm.”

Pregnant worker dismissed: “I told him I am six months pregnant and can’t be expected to lift heavy bins. He said my work was unsatisfactory and sent me home.”


Bitter grapes from South Africa

Af Peter Kenworthy

The new Danish documentary, Bitter Grapes, reveals apartheid-like conditions in the South African wine industry.

Link  – Afrika Kontakt

Vineyards in the beautiful Western Cape. Delicious looking red wine poured into a glass. Happy consumers shopping for wine in supermarkets. Then the image changes to the conditions of the farm workers and the contrast is immense.

The images are from Bitter Grapes, a new documentary by award-winning Danish journalist and documentarist Tom Heinemann that was broadcast on Danish national television Thursday.

Below the minimum wage
Bitter Grapes documents how farm workers work 12 hour shifts for which they are paid as little as 100 rand ($7), which is below the South African minimum wage. Migrant workers from countries such as Lesotho and Zimbabwe are paid significantly less, because they are desperate for work, which helps keep wages low.

The film also portrays an industry where workers fall ill from the toxic pesticides that are used in the vineyards. The workers in the film have had no training in the use of the pesticides and do not use masks or other protective gear, other than a facial cream that they apply at home.

According to the workers themselves, they have no freedom of expression and risk being fired if they are members of a union or complain to their superiors.

The workers also blame the Wine and Agricultural Trading Association (Wieta), an organization that oversees the industry’s fair labour practice certification, for turning a blind eye to the conditions they work and live under.

Worse than under apartheid
“My dream is like everyone’s dream. To have a car and a proper home with a wife and everything. To have a proper job that can pay you a living salary, so you know that at the end of your life your family will benefit,” Siyabuela, a young farm worker, says in the film.

Unfortunately, such dreams do not often come true for farm workers like Siyabuela. In the film, we are shown how many live in shacks with corrugated iron roofs with no toilets or electricity.

“The situation from 1994 has got worse. After apartheid it’s worse. They don’t want you to see the lies but you will see people that look like slaves,” says Secretary General of the farm workers union CSAAWU, Trevor Christians.

Director Tom Heinemann agrees. Some farmers and vineyard owners treat their workers as their private property, he tells me, quoting from an e-mail that was sent by the vice chairman of Wieta and obtained by Heinemann.

“If they complain about filthy drinking water or ask for their overtime pay, as two workers told me, they are sacked. South Africa might formerly have laws that protect them from evictions, illegal layoffs and underpayments but it seems that they are not acted upon,” he adds.

The gates are closed
The conditions shown in Heinemanns film paints a picture of the South African wine industry that the wine producers do not want the public to see.

So when he tries to uncover alleged breaches of ethical standards at Leeuwenkuil Vineyard, his requests for interviews are rejected and he is told he will be sued if he perseveres.

The film crew therefore uses small, discreet cameras when documenting conditions at Leeuwenkuil unannounced. The farm workers show pay slips that document salaries of 100 rand ($7) a day for 12 hour work shifts, which is well below the minimum wage and therefore illegal.

The lack of dialogue with the owners of vineyards such as Leeuwenkuil is only too familiar for Karel Swart from CSAAWU. That the workers are supposed to have freedom of speech at the vineyard, as Leeuwenkuil’s director suggests in a letter to Tom Heinemann, is a “total lie” Swart says.

“What we normally see when we will enter the farm, he closes down the gates and he threatens us.”

‘A disgusting piece of rubbish’
Tom Heinemann and his crew experience a similar “warm welcome” at Robertson Winery. Here farm workers have been on strike for two months, demanding a living wage and decent working conditions.

Several Danish supermarkets have recently removed wine from Robertson Winery from their shelves pending an investigation into the working conditions of the farm workers, something that the Swedish government-owned chain of off-license stores, Systembolaget, are also looking into.

Tom Heinemann arranged an interview at Robertson Winery through Wieta, to ask about the working conditions of the farm workers. But when he arrives at Robertson, cellar master Bowen Botha and export director Geoff Harvey refuse to be interviewed.

And when Heinemann repeats the offer of an interview, where Robertson Winery can explain their side of the story, by extending his hand to Botha and Harvey, one of them is caught on tape telling him:

“I don’t want to shake your filthy hand. You are a disgusting piece of rubbish.”

Consumers must act
Tom Heinemann believes it is important to focus on the plight of the farm workers, who ensure that we can buy cheap South African wine, as well as the attitude of wine producers such as Robertson Winery, he tells me.

“I think it is important to show the consumer how some of the wine is produced, and as far as I know this is the first documentary to do so,” says Heinemann, who hopes that his film can help bring about changes in the South African wine industry.

“The supermarkets promise the consumer that the conditions of the farm workers have certain standards, that they are not exposed to dangerous pesticides without proper protection. That such promises of Corporate Social Responsibility and being responsible for one’s contractor and sub-contractor can be critically investigated is self-evident to me.”

But what can wine-drinking consumers do to make sure that the wine they drink is produced under tolerable conditions? In Bitter Grapes, the interviewees argue that it is important to think and act ethically when buying South African wine.

“I think you, as a consumer of South African wine, have to help change those conditions by beginning to say that you will only drink wine that comes from farms and distillers that take into account these conditions and are willing to make changes in the lives of the farm workers, and that they treat farm workers with human dignity and don’t deny them their rights,” as Mercia Andrews from South African NGO TCOE puts it at the end of the film, before we are shown clouds engulfing Table Mountain and the narrator telling us that legend has it that this symbolizes a battle between good and evil.