Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

In the spotlight: Fairtrade issues in South Africa

Published:  05 March, 2014

South Africa's agricultural sector came under fire in the past few years over infringing the human rights of farm workers, some of whom helped build the country's wine trade. Erin Smith takes a look at two initiatives aimed at combating such problems, namely the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Agreement and Fairtrade.

South Africa's agricultural sector came under fire in the past few years over infringing the human rights of farm workers, some of whom helped build the country's wine trade. Erin Smith takes a look at two initiatives aimed at combating such problems, namely the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Agreement and Fairtrade. Both initiatives have been spearheaded by some of the largest wine producers in South Africa including, Distell and Origin Wines founder Bernard Fontannaz.

What is the difference between WIETA and Fairtrade?

WIETA was formally established in November 2002, as a result of a pilot project in the wine industry, the Ethical Trade Initiative. The pilot programme was set up so partners could define a base code of how to monitor Ethical Trade, develop inspection methodologies, and bring a body together to further discuss the issue in the Western Cape relating to Ethical Trade. In October 2005, after three years of piloting the project, the ideas of WIETA were rolled out to be adopted by the entire agriculture sector in South Africa.

Wine Industry Ethical Trade AgreementWIETAWine Industry Ethical Trade Agreement

The project developed a code governing issues such as prohibition of  child labour and discrimination, employment is a choice, the right to a safe and healthy work environment without excessive working hours, the right to liveable wages, the right to humane working conditions, the right to regular employment and that workers' housing and tenure security rights are to be respected.

Membership is voluntary and those that chose to participate are required to help; producers must implement the base codes of agreement and allow for monitoring by an independent body. Furthermore, trade unions are required to educate the members about the codes and workers' rights, and the government ensures compliance.

Members who want to be accredited must pay an annual fee ranging from 150 rand to 500 rand per year, but the auditing fees associated in becoming accredited and minting accreditation can range between 10,000 rand and 15,000 rand.

For a wine brand to have the accreditation seal on its bottles the owner must ensure total traceability and identify all their suppliers  with at least 60% of these suppliers being WIETA accredited, while the other 40% must demonstrate they are preparing themselves for accreditation.

Fairtrade and fair trade

Although the Fairtrade Organisation has been around for significantly longer than WIETA and has a globally recognised organisation and symbol, it was not established in South Africa until 2009 with the establishment of the Fairtrade Label South Africa.

Fairtrade "is the leading fair trade movement in the agricultural sector. Its name and brand (the FAIRTRADE label) are owned by Fairtrade International and only companies certified against Fairtrade Standards can use it and apply the label on their products," according to the Fairtrade website.

Fairtrade South AfricaFairtradeFairtrade South Africa

However also according to the website, fair trade "refers to the concept of ethical trading and therefore refers to all initiatives (including craft and tourism) that work to achieve it."

Fairtrade is similar to WIETA in that it promotes better living, trading and working conditions. On top of that, through the Fairtrade Development Premium, it provides investments in businesses and empowerment in workers' communities. 

Fairtrade South Africa

Fairtrade Product LifecycleFairtrade Product LifecycleFairtrade Product Lifecycle

Fairtrade focuses on three primary components: labour rights, the environment and the Fairtrade Development Premium.  

Environmentally, Fairtrade focuses on sustainable farming methods, minimal and safe use of pesticides including a ban on certain prohibited pesticides, and no use of Genetically Modified Organisms.

The Fairtrade Development Premium is an agreed amount paid on top of the crop price, which allows farmers to invest in a variety of projects the consider necessary for the communities. For commercial farms the FDP is paid into an account or trust owned by the farm workers who then choose what investments the money should go for such as schools or infrastructural improvements to workers' houses.

Additionally there is a fair trade minimum price that is set by Fairtrade International for each certifiable product. The minimum price is set to take into account the costs of sustainable production and living, as well as the costs of complying with Fairtrade Standards.

Both WIETA and Fairtrade are steps in the right direction for the South African wine industry to address past issues of abuse and mistreatment of agriculture workers.

On a recent visit to the South Africa I had the opportunity to meet with several brand owners who were Fairtrade or WIETA accredited producers.  When asked about what they were doing in response to supporting workers, many were very proud of their progress.

I had the opportunity to talk with Charl Wenn from Neitbegin farm in Stellenbosch that supplies wine grapes to Place in the Sun wines.


"We were sceptical at first" about the idea of fairtrade and did not believe that it would really benefit the workers, Wenn said. But Wenn, who also sits on the board that oversees the workers trust has seen the real impacts participating in fairtrade projects has for people.

"We were able to put in hot water heaters in our homes. And we have a housing project that is to be completed in 2015. School is paid for our kids and transportation cost to the school is also covered," said Wenn.  He also got to fly for the first time on an airplane two years ago, the first in his family to do so, in conjunction with a Fairtrade project that was launching in Johannesburg.

These are projects that do affect the communities that participate and as consumers we have the ability to help such projects along. It is gratifying to say that while I was there some of the wines that I tried were fantastic and happen to be fairtrade, such as the Nederburg Manor House fairtrade Shiraz/Mourvèdre blend (available at and the Place in the Sun Merlot.

Both are great wines that I am happy to drink and even happier to support.

Fairtrade Product Lifecycle