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Richard Siddle: comment August 26, Let's all get behind South Africa

Published:  15 September, 2011

It is said there is no such thing as bad publicity, well try telling that to the South African wine industry this month sent reeling from allegations of human rights infringements of workers at some wineries.

It is said there is no such thing as bad publicity, well try telling that to the South African wine industry this month sent reeling from allegations of human rights infringements of workers at some wineries.

The report by the Human Rights Watch has been strongly refuted by Wines of South Africa, which has questioned how much of the evidence relies on anonymous sources. But these are highly serious charges and whether 100% accurate or not, mud sticks.

It is vital that not only does the South Africa wine industry respond in the right way to these charges, but all those who import and sell South African wine support their wineries at this time.

Perversely there may well be some good that can be salvaged from this crisis.

Despite all their valiant efforts Fairtrade and ethical wine production is still not as widespread in South Africa as the governing bodies would like. Fairtrade wine, although growing, still only has limited sales here and in other export markets. But by adopting Fairtrade working practices and signing up to the country's Wine Industry Ethical Trading Association, issues raised by theHuman Rights Watch report should, in theory, be addressed.

The crisis also exposes the unique, and potentially de-stabilising pressures the South African wine industry has to operate under. Not only does it suffer from the vagaries of harvests, weather, currency and consumer demand, it also has to support a national benefit and welfare system for many of it workers. When sales drop those pressures intensify at an alarming degree.

This is a time for us all to show our support for our friends in South Africa and get behind its wines and its workers.

The situation reminds me of the words of Bernard Fontannaz, the man behind one of South Africa's largest Fairtrade operation, Origin Wine. His main objective, he says, is not just to make quality wine for the sake of it, but to use that wine to improve the quality of the lives of people that help make it. Simple but as inspiring as that.

Let's support Fontannaz and all other South African wineries to do exactly that.

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