Response to “Bitter Grapes” documentary

Dear Colleague and fellow Consumer,

There have been a number of items in the media recently arising from the documentary aired in Sweden and Denmark last week, named “Bitter Grapes: Slavery in the Vineyards”. This brief is a response to these allegations and an attempt to highlight certain information which we believe was conspicuously ignored in the documentary.


The documentary presented an overall review of the wine sector, highlighting the socio-economic issues prevalent within this sector. In addition, only three out of approximately 3000 producers in the wine industry were identified as ostensibly falling short of prescribed practices for the industry.

In the documentary, a number of allegations were made which were subsequently assessed by an independent 3rd party auditor, commissioned by Systembolaget.  This was in addition to previous audits done by both WIETA (“The Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association”) and BSCI (the Business Social Compliance Initiative”).

It is important to note that all of the audits, both South African based and Internationally reputable ethical trade auditors, have confirmed that the allegations made against Robertson Winery by way of the documentary, were unfounded and without substance. Minor administrative adjustments were recommended by them to improve communication.

Summary of findings regarding perceived allegations:

  1. Wage levels: Audits have confirmed that Robertson Winery presently remunerates its staff substantially above the Sectoral Minimum Wage levels. Robertson Winery pays an average Cost to Company package of R6,104 per month to its employees in the ‘Bargaining Unit.’ This excludes provision for Provident Fund Contributions, Bonus payments as well as various other benefits including access to free medical services.At present, an entry level employee at Robertson Winery will expect to earn a monthly basic wage of R3,805.  This excludes provision for Provident Fund Contributions, Bonus payments as well as access to free medical services.
  1. Deductions: No unlawful deductions were found to be made within Robertson Winery.
  1. Right to Freedom of Association and the Right to Bargain Collectively: Robertson Winery and all parties directly or indirectly associated with the organisation have been audited by accredited ethical trade agencies to ensure that basic rights such as Freedom of Association, Rights to Collective Bargaining and Fair Labour practices are upheld.The recognised trade union, CSAAWU is presently engaged in industrial action at Robertson Winery in furtherance of its demand for an increase of 150% on the entry level wages for its members. Robertson Winery respects the right of employees to engage in protected industrial action and continues to engage with the trade union, towards finally resolving the dispute. These negotiations are ongoing in terms of Section 150 of the Labour Relations Act where the services of the CCMA have been involved in attempting to conciliate a settlement.  Unfortunately CSAAWU unilaterally chose to leave the most recent meeting on 25 October 2016, without settling the matter, thereby bringing the voluntary Section150 process to an abrupt halt.  The union requested the opportunity to respond to the offer by 31 October 2016.
  1. Alleged Unfair Layoffs and Illegal Evictions: No layoffs or evictions by any Robertson producer have taken place over the past twenty four months which have in any way been in breach of ethical or legal requirements specified in the Security of Tenure Act. This was confirmed by WIETA.

The documentary: “Bitter Grapes: Slavery in the Vineyards”

Robertson Winery views the documentary “Bitter Grapes” as a one sided and somewhat superficial depiction of the circumstances of the South African wine sector.

It is noted that the documentary chose to rely on the evidence of the officials of a single trade union which happens to be embroiled at this time in a longstanding industrial dispute over wages with Robertson Winery.

The fact that the documentary failed to seek views from unions such as FAWU, BAWUSA and Women on Farms, all of which have established reputations in the Agricultural Sector, serves only to undermine the substance of the evidence presented in the documentary.

The documentary chose to pursue the false narrative that Robertson Winery is party to payment of ‘slave wages and apartheid practices’. It was noted that the documentary chose to ignore the fact that the company has been party to the purchase and transfer of the farm Constitution Road into Trusts, 66% of which is held by up to one hundred and eighty three historically disadvantaged women who work on producer farms. We believe that this extraordinary commercial arrangement was ignored in the documentary simply because it does not promote the narrative of “slavery and apartheid”.

So too, the fact that employees of Robertson Winery have access to free medical facilities as well as access to housing subsidies/loans and opportunities to further their education, was simply overlooked and ignored in the documentary.

We believe that a more constructive approach to the present dynamics which exist in the wine and grape sector where talk of ‘removing wine from shelves’ is the order of the day, should be the development of a more collaborative and holistic long term view. This should engage retailers, distributors and all stake holders alike in finding long term and sustainable solutions which benefit all stakeholders in the industry, including producers, their employees and retailers alike.

Anton Cilliers

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