When bitter grapes turns sweet

Major improvements for workers on one of the big exporters

By Tom Heinemann


Even if there is an upper limit to everything, there is good news for some of the farm workers at one of the big vineyards in South Africa.


After exposing numerous violations of national law and the Swedish alcohol monopoly, Systembolaget’s ethical code of conduct pictured in the documentary film, “Bitter Grapes – Slavery in the vineyards”, some good things have started to happen.

After the film was aired in Scandinavia in October a storm broke out – especially in the South African media. After denying most – calling the documentary film “biased” and “one-sided” – industry bodies, importers and Systembolaget ensured the consumers that more independent inspections would be intensified.

However, the authorities overturned all the good intentions. Shortly after the film was aired, the Department of Labour along with the local government in the Western Cape went on an un-announced tour of inspections at the very same farms that were pictured in the documentary film.

And the results were depressing. On all five farms a number of corrective actions had to be taken. Some within two weeks others within 60 days.

One of the farms was Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards, one of the big sellers at Systembolaget in Sweden. More than 30 different vineyards are producing grapes to Leeuwenkuil.

The inspectors from the Department of Labour visited three of the Leewuenkuil farms in the area and where one of them was part of the documentary.

Here they found a number of violations that apparently had been going on for years.

After the Department of Labour did their inspection at the three local Leewenkuil-farms they had to improve the following:

* Demolition of one or two houses that was not fit for people to live in as there were fear for that the houses could collapse.

* Leeuwenkuil must comply with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act concerning sick leave, as workers were not paid – even when they had made a written sick-leave document as stipulated in the law.

* Removal of “open” electrical wires that was endangering the lives and safety for workers and children

* The room where small children were taken care of during working hours had to me moved as it was in the same building where the chemicals and other pesticides were stored.

* Full stop of the farm shop (apparently owned by the wife of the owner)) as it was charging much over the normal rates and that it was therefore the huge deductions were made.

* Health and safety equipment must be handed out to the workers.

* The quality of drinking water had to be improved immediately

Both the importer of Leewenkuil to Scandinavia as well as the local representative of the Union CSAAWU, confirms that all the issues have been settled to the benefit of the workers.

However, two issues are still in progress. One is the fact that some of the workers for three years have paid rent for houses that didn’t live up to the legislation. Therefore the Department of Labour has demanded that the company have to pay back the money to the workers.

Finally, it is also a demand, that some of large deductions that were made on the workers monthly pay slips have to be paid back to the workers.

While the official inspections was commented by the local authorities, the Swedish alcohol monopoly, Systembolaget do not wish to comment on their own findings. According to the press officer from Systembolaget, Ida Ingerö, 11 inspections at various farms belonging to Leeuwenkuil were made during the fall:

“Regarding the results and what needs to be done is part of the business relations between us and our suppliers and the Swedish importers. Therefore we do not hand these plans out to others.”


Still a long way to go

Even if Deputy Secretary General, Karel Swart from CVSAAWU welcomes the many improvements for the workers at Leeuwenkuil as a “major victory after six years of battle”, he still describes the life of Leeuwenkuil workers is equal to the life of a slave:

“The owner Willie Dreyer still treats many of his workers as slaves. He acts very rude and keeps on insulting the workers. If we don’t keep up the pressure, he will continue to do so. This man belongs to the heritage of racism and Apartheid and if we don’t step up the pressure on him, he will continue to act like this”

When confronted with the complaints from the workers, the owner of Leeuwenkuil, Willie Dreyer denies all allegations. In a written response, he states that any “ (…) false allegations and negative communications via the media may have a detrimental effect on our business (…)”

Therefore Willie Dreyer will “(…) not hesitate to take legal action should it be required.”