Lovers buying wine for Valentine’s Day tomorrow are being warned that South African workers face poverty wages supplying British supermarkets.
The news comes as more and more fairtrade wines are available which guarantee that workers will be paid a decent wage.
Amid rising food and fuel costs, large numbers of workers in the Western Cape region are struggling to feed and clothe their families and pay for healthcare and their children’s schooling.
Supermarkets control the biggest share of the UK wine market, selling over 80 per cent of all imports. Britain is the world’s largest importer of South African wine, buying almost a third by volume. Tesco sells most South African wine (20 per cent), the Co-op 14 per cent, Sainsbury’s 12 per cent and Asda and Morrisons 9 per cent each.
The report, Sour Grapes, says that supermarkets and wine agents force suppliers to cut production costs by dominating markets and abusing their buyer power. This traps vineyard and fruit employees in low pay and insecure jobs, with farmers increasingly hiring seasonal employees who earn less and lack entitlements received by permanent workers, such as housing and sick pay.
Though many farms are in remote places, workers must walk there, unable to afford transport. Most seasonal employees are women, earning less than men on permanent contracts and often suffering from sexual harassment at work.
Growing numbers of workers are migrants, who travel long distances in a desperate hunt for even temporary jobs. Migrants experience problems defending their rights as they do not speak Afrikaans, the main Cape language.
Simon McRae, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: “Many of us will buy South African wine in supermarkets to share with loved ones on St Valentine’s Day. But, for workers producing the wine, these supermarkets and wine agents are more sinners than saints. It is time the UK government introduced regulation to stop this shameful abuse.”
War on Want is urging shoppers to write to business secretary Lord Mandelson, urging him to enable overseas workers to seek redress if UK companies or their suppliers exploit them.