Aug. 23 (GIN)-Bent over the lush vineyards that produce South Africa’s great wines are dirt-poor workers living in substandard shacks and exposed to toxic pesticides, according to an alarming new report released by the watchdog group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW said they found farm workers, mostly in the Western Cape Province, who were largely unaware of their rights. Illegal evictions were common, with authorities rarely initiating the proper criminal proceedings. The 96-page report, “Ripe with Abuse,” was released by the New York-based group this week.
“The wealth and well-being these workers produce shouldn’t be rooted in human misery,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW. “The government, industries and farmers need to do a lot more to protect the people who live and work on farms.”
South Africa’s farmers’ association called the report “one-sided, malicious, unfair and highly irresponsible.” The head of Wines of South Africa said the study’s claims would be investigated.
Farmworkers contribute millions to South Africa’s economy. For centuries they were paid in alcohol in the so-called “Dop” system, to disastrous health and social consequences. At two farms identified by HRW, Dop was found to still be in effect.
The rights group found full compliance with the law in a few cases, as well as a variety of positive practices by employers. Some farmers, for example, give workers land on which to grow their own crops, pay the full cost of medical visits and provide free food to workers in the winter.
South Africa is the world’s 7th largest producer of wine. Canada, the United States and the UK are important export destinations for South African wine.