The SA industry is planning a new ethical standard – what’s the point?

The South African wine industry is besieged by standards. There’s the IPW (Integrated Production of Wine) which was introduced in 1998 and is South Africa’s voluntary environmental sustainability scheme.  Then there’s SAWIS  (S A Wine Industry Information & Systems) whose certification seal shows the wine has been certified by the Wine and Spirit Board and is a mark of authenticity.  Linked to it is the WO (Wine of Origin) scheme which marks providence. And of course there’s the ubiquitous BBBEE, designed to help level the playing field. That’s all before you’ve entered the international game, in which case you’ll need an HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points), or a beefed up version for the UK called a BRC (British Retail Consortium), or an ISO (International Organization for Standardization). So what is this new standard? And is it really necessary?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            WIETA is an South African ethical trade in agriculture initiative. It was established a decade ago and describes itself as  ‘a multi-stakeholder, non-profit voluntary organisation which actively promotes ethical trade in the wine industry value chain’. There is support from a body of international retailers, unions and established industry organisations to help WIETA establish an ethical seal that will testify to reasonable working conditions, based on rigorous and closely monitored qualification criteria. Sounds good.  Clearly, fair and equitable treatment of workers is the right thing: morally, economically, socially, ethically, politically, legally. You would be hard pushed to argue otherwise.
The impetus behind this new standard, which will entitle producers who make the grade to use the seal on their wine, seems to have been twofold. Firstly, to counteract the negative publicity surrounding cases of labour malpractices in the wine industry; WIETA CEO Linda Lipparoni  (quoted on hopes that the standard will ‘protect them from any potential negative publicity resulting from those who flout the law’. And secondly,  to bring all the many ethical standards under one major umbrella ethical certificate.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The WIETA standard ‘precludes the use of child labour, asserts that employment should be freely chosen and that all employees should have the right to a healthy and safe working environment. Amongst the conditions it sets are that workers should have the right to freedom of association, a living wage and to be protected from unfair discrimination. Worker housing and tenure security rights should also be respected.’  And what monster could disagree with that? But, hold your righteous horses a second, aren’t there already serious measures in place to ensure all this already happens?  Even if  you wanted to, you can’t just go about firing people on a whim – the CCMA would have your guts for garters! Fortunately South Africa has a very highly developed legal system,  first world labour laws and conforms to fierce ILO (International Labour Organization) standards – so wouldn’t the right course of action, in a case of any of the above, be vigorous legal action rather than a wrap on the knuckles from WIETA?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Perhaps it is insufficient government control and support of these stringent laws that allows the odd malfeasant to slip the noose? No doubt there are black sheep out there. But will another acronym, rather than a vigilant legal system and a watchful media, bring them back into the fold?  Perhaps wine producers could simply wear WIETA funded stickers that say ‘Law Abiding Citizen!’.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 What do you think?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Want to know more?

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