At a special meeting of the Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association’s (WIETA) board convened against the backdrop of the protest action, its members issued a statement supporting the right to freedom of association and reaffirmed the WIETA Code principle of a living wage.
Speaking on behalf of the WIETA board, chairperson Mzukisi Mooi said: "The current protests by workers within the agricultural sector highlight the urgent need to establish a culture of fair and ethical farming that is both socially and economically sustainable. It was against this background that WIETA, a non profit organisation, was established in 2002, primarily as a way to assist workers and producers to understand their rights and abide by their responsibilities.”
He said WIETA and its stakeholders strongly condemned all forms of violence and intimidation associated with the protests taking place within the agricultural sector and that were being attributed to workers, farmers, the SAPS, private security companies and farm worker communities.
WIETA, whose board representatives include producers, such as SALBA, Wine Cellars SA and Vinpro, trade unions such as FAWU, BAWUSA and Sekhula Sonke and NGOs such as Women on Farms Project and The Centre for Rural Legal Studies, said it was intensifying its roll-out plan to increase the number of farms eligible for ethical certification.
"Through training of workers and management, technical assessments and audits, WIETA assesses compliance with a code of good conduct created to promote ethical and fair labour practices,” added Mooi.
He confirmed that earlier this year WIETA had introduced an Ethical Seal, believed to be the first such initiative of its kind amongst wine-producing countries worldwide. Fully traceable across every step of the wine production process, the seal testifies to fair working conditions, based on rigorous and closely monitored certification criteria.
WIETA CEO, Linda Lipparoni said many of the major producers, as well as smaller, privately-owned producers were supporting the WIETA initiative. The first set of wines entitled to carry the seal were already in the market and more would be following on an on-going basis. "We urge other producers to follow to comply with the WIETA Code and to earn the right to carry the Ethical Seal."
Mooi said WIETA was fully committed to exploring constructive ways and means of resolving the current and other contentious issues amongst the wine industry stakeholders. "We are making an urgent call to the wider agricultural sector to come together and to enter into meaningful dialogue to find fair and equitable solutions to address the current situation".