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.