South African farmworkers get Norwegian award

By: Peter Kenworthy


The Commercial Stevedoring and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) have won the Norwegian Artur Svenssons 2017 international award, for fighting poor conditions in South African wineries.

The award, that includes a 740.000 rand prize, is awarded by Norwegian trade union confederation Industri Energi, who organizes workers in the Norwegian oil-, gas- and land-based industries. The confederation has 60.000 members.

Slave-like conditions
According to leader of Industri Energi and head of the award jury, Leif Sande, the award was given to CSAAWU because of their fight for farm worker rights.

“The systematic violations of basic rights on South African wineries are so comprehensive that conditions can be described as slave-like. CSAAWU is doing a marvelous job in organizing workers, despite their scarce resources,” Sande says.

According to CSAAWU’s Secretary General, Trevor Christians, the award is much appreciated.

“The international recognition and prize money will put CSAAWU in a much better position to increase our outreach to more farmworkers, to assist them to defend and advance their rights as workers,” Christians said in a statement.

Investigative journalism works
The Norwegians were alerted to CSAAWU’s struggle by seeing “Bitter Grapes,” a documentary about the conditions on South African wineries made by Danish journalist Tom Heinemann, on Norwegian television.

“Bitter Grapes” portrayed conditions of extremely poor work- and accommodation conditions on several South African wineries, as well as salaries below the minimum wage.

Heinemann says he is pleased that his film is being used to positive effect.

“The Norwegian wine importer Vinmonopolet is presently on a lengthy inspection tour of South Africa and the authorities have tightened the control of the wineries significantly. That CSAAWU have now been presented with an award from their Norwegian colleagues shows that even in a world where fake news and click-bate is on the rise, and the credibility of journalists is under pressure, ‘old-school’ investigative journalism can still be effective,” Heinemann says.

Danes ditched Robertson
Last year two large Danish supermarket chains removed wine from Robertson Winery, one of the wineries portrayed in the film, from their shelves after adverse press coverage due to Heinemanns film.

It also led to local authorities in the Western Cape calling conditions in the wineries in the area “unacceptable” and “unethical” and improving the level and quality of inspections.

Human Rights Watch, the International Labour Organisation and other organisations have previously documented similar conditions on South African Wineries.