Producers in the wine industry have sought to comply with ethical standard requirements since the introduction of the WIETA Code of Conduct in 2002. Supply chain auditing, introduced in 2010, has seen Brands take responsibility for ensuring that not only first tier compliance is upheld at cellar level but that the highest of international and local labour, health and safety standards are implemented at wine farm level and throughout their supply chains.
Challenges on higher risk farms to meet and sustain the implementation of even the minimum legal compliance, particularly in areas of seasonal worker contracts and leave provisions, housing, minimum wages, and occupational health and safety compliance, still persist. This is particularly common amongst the smaller producer farms and in the bulk supply chain segment of the industry where farms are experiencing increasing price cuts for tonnage wine grape delivered to bulk cellars and wine wholesalers.
In the past, the WIETA support methodology provided the “ethical tools” in the form of labour and occupational health and safety training and support materials. However, there is greater risk to the agricultural sector as a whole if there is unfair treatment of workers both at work and in farming communities where they reside.
The move to develop a common global standard and interpretation of current ethical codes and audit methodology as embodied in reference framework’s such as the Global Social Compliance Programme which WIETA has subscribed to, has also failed workers in supply chains. It has failed in two respects. One, despite efforts to share and compare, development consistencies and synergies in principle and in approach, the proliferation of audits, standards and compliance bodies are ever increasing.
Secondly, ethical standards and their regimes are largely created to ensure brand reputation by giving assurances that compliance is monitored through audit. Despite ever more frequent auditing, global brands and their supply chains are still not able to sufficiently prove that auditing in and of itself has improved the lives and working conditions of the workers affected.
Upon closer scrutiny, continuous audit cycles imposed on supply chains within South Africa offer little promise of fundamental and sustainable remedy and change in the workplace. Rather, the inherent need to sign off corrective measures within short term frameworks by audit bodies, often serves to create suspicion that the audit process is not fit for its intended purpose:
to be engaging and long lasting, to build relationships that are solid, founded on trust and mutual respect, in workplaces that promote respect and seek to enable the exercising of fundamental worker and human rights.
WIETA’s strategy going forward recognises the limitations of auditing as a means to ensure sustainable ethical best practices. Our strategic focus areas are based on:
- Holistic Remedial Wellness Programme Support
- Ethical Leadership & Development
- Courageous Social Dialogue
- Performance based and inclusive participatory monitoring mechanisms
These focus areas ensure that far more effort is placed on developing ethical leadership, engaging in open and courageous social dialogue regionally, in communities as well as in the workplace, and addressing and building capacity for implementing broader community based social and ethical remedies.