A large number of Supermarkets in Denmark have moved South African wines off their shelves in the past week.
This comes after a documentary entitled Bitter Grapes – Slavery in the Vineyards, produced by Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann was broadcast in Denmark and Sweden this past week.
The documentary, after screening was discovered to be an exposition of the destitute working conditions of farm workers in South Africa, mostly workers in wine producing estates.
South Africa is largely known for its excellence in wine production. The country is, in fact, the second most popular country of origin for wine sales in Sweden with Denmark importing about 78% of the SA wine over the past ten years especially as the Scandinavian region consumes 50 million litres of the wine a year.
Heinemann’s documentary will pull a big deal on the SA economy being one of the major source of government income. A study published by the South African Wine Industry Information and Systems last year says the industry contributes R36.1-billion to South Africa’s GDP.
Upon receiving this report, Sithembele Tshete of the Department of Labour called on farmers to treat their workers fairly so as not to compromise their exports.
“Someone should pull up their socks and should be treating workers fairly for them to be able to realise their value chain in terms of their farms,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann said 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 short documentary describes the widespread violations of labour laws, including workers receiving as low as 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 drop 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.
Heinemann criticized the South African Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trading Association, a local organization set up to ensure fair labour practices.
“There seems to be a conflict of interest on the board,” Heinemann said. “With nine board members, five are from the industry itself,” he said giving 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 official minimum wage.
Western Cape economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde said the department would investigate the documentary’s allegations, Timeslive reported.