Changing lives through Fairtrade 

In the dark days of apartheid South African wine was an easy target for consumers to show their displeasure for the abhorrent political policy. They (very effectively) withheld their custom and refused on principle to buy South African products.

Times have changed and with it, attitudes toward South African wine. Local products bearing the Fairtrade seal offer those self-same principled consumers the opportunity to continue to do the right thing – and to have a positive impact.

It’s difficult to be unaware of the Fairtrade seal, but does the average consumer truly understand what Fairtrade is all about? 

Simply put, it’s the most globally trusted ethical certification system. By means of stringent control, auditing and monitoring the supply chain, it has become an incredibly strong change mechanism. Fairtrade changes peoples’ lives. 

Consumers can confidently buy Fairtrade products – coffee, tea, fruit, sugar or wine – in the knowledge that all steps in the process ensure a positive outcome for the person who has cut the cane, harvested the cocoa, coffee or grapes. That’s what paying a small premium on the Fairtrade product ensures. Its principles are based on fundamental human rights and environmental protection for generations to come. Already there are more than 1.5 million farmers and workers around the world who have been positively affected by Fairtrade. In the 2013/14 financial year Fairtrade vineyard workers and farmers received €1,595,300 in Fairtrade Premium payments.

South Africa dominates the wine segment of Fairtrade – with South America another country which is setting historic injustices to right. As the Fairtrade website states: “Buying Fairtrade wine helps ensure that farmers and workers are receiving a fair price – as well as an additional premium to help their community invest in essential services such as education, sanitation and health care.” In 2013 alone, more than 11 million litres of Fairtrade wine was consumed in the United Kingdom – a country which remains one of South Africa’s most important trading partners.

Elgin wine producer Thandi, was not only the first South African wine brand to obtain Fairtrade accreditation in 2003, just eight years after the black economic empowerment wine brand was established, it was the first in the world!

As its website states: “Thandi’s secret to success is not the fact that good taste is a constant ingredient, but rather that the brand helps create wealth and uplifts previously disadvantaged communities. Profits and Fairtrade premiums are ploughed back into various upliftment initiatives such as the education of children (all levels up to university), training and development, health care support, home improvements and sport and recreation.

“Thandi is owned by 147 farm worker families who hold 62% shares in the company. Furthermore, the Thandi community also holds farmland ownership over Lebanon Fruit Farm.”

Ever candid and honest, Tertius Boshoff co-owner and cellarmaster of Stellenrust wines in Stellenbosch admitted that Fairtrade is “quite a mission… a helluva process to go through. At the time we decided to get Fairtrade accreditation in 2010, there were no other viable or worthwhile socio-economic equality programmes around.” 

“For us, it was never a method of selling our wines. When we gained certification in 2010 Stellenrust already had well established brands, with the awards and sales to prove it. Fairtrade was an informed decision to contribute further to our good relationship with our workers and to optimise the support we could give them on all different levels”.

Education was the most notable one. Tertiary education is expensive, regardless of the student’s background. “It was one of our proudest moments when the first farm child received a university degree. It showed that it was possible to outgrow the stigma that a farm child will become a farm worker once they finish secondary school.”

Boshoff said the growth in educational wellbeing over the past seven years has made “massive changes to the social standard of our workers” and Stellenrust now boasts a number of graduates who have opted to return to the farm “at a level higher than a basic vineyard worker”. 

It’s well worth “the hassle of the paperwork and ongoing audits,” Boshoff maintains. “The systems and monitoring is impeccable. It creates straightforward principles to live and work by – whether you’re an employer or an employee of Stellenrust. The guidelines are quite clear and being audited bi-annually after a certain number of years of annual audits, keeps everyone on their toes to ensure that Fairtrade is a way of life on the farm and not a ‘once-every-two-year’ scramble to look the part. I’m sure if the process was easier more South African farms would sign up.”

Wellington’s Bosman Family Vineyards is the poster child for Fairtrade wine, having been adjudged the top Fairtrade label at the International Wine Challenge in 2015.

Arianna Baldo, Executive Director: Fairtrade Label South Africa, said at the time: “In the past five years there has been an overall growth in the quality of Fairtrade certified wines, and Bosman Family Vineyards is the cherry on the cake. It demonstrates again and again how quality and sustainability are not mutually exclusive, and how their marriage is a win-win-win situation: for the business, consumers and farm workers.” 

David Loos, a special projects consultant to Fairview shed additional perspective. Owner Charles Back has always been a leading light in the local wine fraternity when it comes to ethical trading and social upliftment. Loos said it was “a logical progression for Fairview because of the programme’s strong emphasis on workers’ self determination to drive and run their own (Fairtrade) projects.”

He jokes that they should have changed the date of the farm’s Fairtrade certification from 13 February 2013 to the 14th. “It would have been the perfect Valentine’s gift… given all the hard work it took for a year leading up to it!” 
Loos said certification was certainly costly for Fairview, “but the comprehensive and detailed certification standards and annual audit process, provide Fairview’s management team with the knowledge that a (certain) level of social, labour relations and environmental standards and practices are being achieved”.

“The beauty of Fairtrade certification is that there is always stretch… the management team can never be on top of its game. There is always room for improvement,” he said, referring to the standards which must be maintained, along with three and six year ‘stretch’ goals and rotation of auditors to ensure they’re achieved. 

Loos said while Fairtrade opened up markets in both the United Kingdom and Scandic countries, the biggest benefit was as a vehicle for “building management and administrative skills and capacity within the democratically elected Fairtrade Premium Committee or leadership team, who are trustees of the Fairtrade Premium Funds and drive the projects”. Loos admitted this was “not easy work” when dealing with +/- 200 Fairtrade beneficiaries, often holding divergent views and interests in projects.

“For me, the various socio-economic projects are very satisfying to see, but the growth and development of workers who serve on the Fairtrade Premium Committee for a two year term is truly special.”

Lisa Carollisen has served as a mentor to Fairview’s Fairtrade Premium Committee. “For me, the most satisfying thing to see is how the beneficiaries/workers decide for themselves how best to utilise the premium funds. With each passing year, the FPC has become more knowledgeable and independent in their ability to manage the funds and organise themselves and the beneficiaries that they represent. Certainly the major difference in my view, has been the human growth factor.”

It’s something Stellenrust’s Boshoff agrees with. “Workers are getting more independent and better at organising things,” he said citing the example of funds being utilised for a community soup kitchen and breakfast packs for school children.

“They’re also looking at buying a vehicle for community transport and have arranged for healthcare visits by a nurse every two weeks – because they saw the need for that.”

Check out what Dawid Nicolaas and Jessica Hector have to say about Fairview’s Fairtrade involvement in this Facebook video:

-Fiona McDonald