Fairtrade Certification on South African Wine Farms: An Inadequate Solution to Exploitation?

Fairtrade Certification on South African Wine Farms: An Inadequate Solution to Exploitation?

...By Roland Peterson for TDPel Media.

Wine production has a long history in South Africa dating back to the mid-1600s when Dutch colonisers first began producing wine and selling it to passing ships.


The industry has grown over time and currently employs close to 300,000 people.

The wine industry generates an export value of R10 billion annually, contributing 1.1% to South Africa’s GDP and 1.6% of total employment in the country.

Fairtrade Certification: During the colonial and apartheid eras, the wine industry in South Africa was marked by the exploitation and control of black and coloured labourers by white farmers.

With the end of apartheid, labour laws were put in place to protect workers from exploitation.

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However, concerns remained about the living and working conditions of workers on wine farms.

In response to these concerns, some South African wine farms applied for and were granted Fairtrade certification.


This label assures consumers that the product they buy has been ethically sourced and traded, with a premium going towards improving farm workers’ lives.

Controversial Inclusion of Commercial Wine Farmers:

In 2020, a study was conducted to review whether the inclusion of wealthy white commercial wine farmers, who are not typical producers associated with Fairtrade certification, is justified.

The study found that while the wine bottles leaving the farm might bear the Fairtrade label, the workers on these farms do not feel they are being fairly treated.

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This casts doubt on the efficacy and legitimacy of extending Fairtrade certification to South African commercial wine farmers.

The Experiences of Farm Workers: The study conducted interviews with representatives of the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union, key stakeholders in the wine industry, and workers on five Fairtrade farms.

The findings suggested that workers on these farms did not feel empowered to combat poverty and have more control over their lives. Most of the 30 farm workers interviewed were not even aware that the farm they worked on was Fairtrade certified.

They reported poor and unsafe living and working conditions, inadequate housing, and increased labour casualisation, especially for women.

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Additionally, farmworkers were intimidated for taking part in trade union activities or for speaking out about their conditions.


Fairtrade certification may be helping farmers gain entry to international markets, but the study suggests that it is not bringing the anticipated benefits to farm workers.

Significant changes to the auditing and certification processes need to be made if the certification is to benefit workers on South African wine farms.

A more transparent and rigorous auditing process needs to occur if certification is to be meaningful.


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