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fairtrade wines and other socially responsible wines
Everyone's heard of Fairtrade these days. Usually applied to commodity products such as coffee or tea, there are now Fairtrade wines which guarantee a living wage to the farmworkers in countries like South Africa, Chile and Argentina.
Some people are asking the question, "How fair is Fairtrade?". It's worth pointing out that Fairtrade licence fees, certification and audits cost quite a lot and there are some concerns that not enough of the Fairtrade premium is getting through to where it is needed.
The Fairhills project which we visited in South Africa involves 11 farms, each of which have to be certified annually at a cost of approximately £1000 each. Licence fees for the Fairtrade logo are about 1.8% of the net sales value according to the Fairtrade website. The good thing about the Fairhills project is the extra funding that the Coop are giving directly to the project. Seeing the cheque on the wall inside the community centre was a nice sight!
It's a complex issue and our conclusion is that it is better to buy Fairtrade than not buy Fairtrade, but that we should also actively look for wines from estates who are also paying their workers fairly and looking after their welfare even if they don't go for the Fairtrade logo (see Ethical Principles below).
The number of Fairtrade wines available in the UK is still pretty limited although consumer awareness is said to be higher than it is for organic wines.
With all these wines, our number one criterion is quality. All these projects will only succeed long-term if they can deliver wine of consistent quality and value.
South Africa's Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association
WIETA is a relatively new not-for-profit body in South Africa promoting decent and fair standards of employment in the wine industry. Sites are audited and accredited according to an ethical trading code which has been drawn up based on Ethical Trading Initiative standards. Attempts are being made to align activities with FLO, the Fairtrade certification body, to enable WIETA accredited sites to apply for Fairtrade certification without incurring double audit fees.
Black Economic Empowerment in South Africa
Although wine making is one of South Africa's best established industries, it is also seen as a bastion of white influence and affluence. Less than 1% of wine producing companies are owned by black businessmen.
As part of the government's overall AgriBEE programme, the South African Wine & Brandy Corporation and the South African Wine Industry Trust are driving forward a Charter and scorecard to ensure that over the next decade a more representative ownership structure emerges. In summary BEE means ownership, influence and management in black hands.
Through subsidies, grants and access to finance, a variety of projects have been undertaken. Some by large businesses such as Distell, others by lone entrepreneurs such as Mzokhana Mvemve who is making wine under his Sagila label. Entrepreneurs like Mzo are role-models, showing what can be done with education, guts and determination. They will play an increasingly important role in the future and deserve our encouragement.
This is a catch-all phrase to cover wine producers who are going to great lengths to improve the welfare of their workers and families, have a great story to tell and yet do not seek certification or logos or any form of accreditation. We shall be actively seeking these out and look forward to telling their individual stories.
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