Abuse from farmers, exposure to pesticides, an absence of toilets in the vineyards, tenure insecurity, and unlawful evictions from farms. These are the major labour rights violations still occurring on some of South Africa’s leading wine farms, according to the Women on Farms Project. Women from the organisation staged a march yesterday (Wednesday, 23 March 2022) to Distell Stellenbosch to demand an end to labour rights violations on commercial wine farms in the country.
According to Women on Farms Project (WFP) spokesperson Kara Mackay they handed over a memorandum to the Distell Group. “Our march to Distell went very well. They were not aware of the labour rights violations occurring in their supply chain and committed to meeting with WFP about it.”
The end of the grape harvest is a time for companies to celebrate profits, according to Mackay, who says that Distell posted record growth for the financial year ending June 2021. This included a year- on-year increase of 26% in sales volumes, a 24% increase in revenue and a 227% increase in headline earnings. This was despite Covid-19-related bans on liquor sales and trading.
Mackay says that these record earnings are “made on the back of farmwomen”.
“They don’t mention the women and the farmworkers who had to work hard to get those profits.”
Distell cited resilience and agility for its recent success, but Women on Farms contends that profits are largely the result of the increasingly precarious and casualised labour of women working on farms.
“The women work very hard but at the end of the harvest they get, like, R1 000 which they can use for the next six months because they are going to be unemployed [out of season]. Then [companies like] Distell get the R7 million. It’s those structural inequalities that we want to look at,” Mackay tells Food For Mzansi.
Instead of farmers sharing their profits with farmworkers for securing the harvest, they continue to subject women farmworkers to unfair labour treatment, Mackay adds.
Distell is South Africa and Africa’s leading producer and marketer of wines, spirits and ciders, including brands like Nederburg, JC Le Roux, Durbanville Hills and Klipdrift.
Mackay says that, while many wine-producing companies celebrate the end of the harvest and anticipate great profits and wealth, the end of the harvest signals to farmwomen the bleak reality of unemployment, hunger and poverty. This, as they must feed their families creatively during the offseason with their paltry unemployment insurance and social grants, and high interest rates imposed by loan sharks.
To break the cycle of structural poverty, the Women on Farms Project is actively showing its support for the Feminist Reparation Campaign, which demands the introduction of a wealth tax on the richest 1% of South Africans. They hope that this will secure a dignified life for women farmworkers and [farm] dwellers with secure land, income, food, shelter, health and education.
Mackay says demonstrations will continue. “[We are] on to the next leg of our harvest events, where we will picket outside the gates of the Stellenbosch Soiree, a wine festival celebrating the harvest.”
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