Ripe with AbuseHuman Rights conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and wine Industries Presentation made to the Portfolio Committee on Labour, 8 November 2011, Parliament- Cape Town
Methodology • This report is based on research conducted between September 2010 and May 2011, including field visits to South Africa in November-December 2010 and February-March 2011. • Human Rights Watch interviewed over 260 people for this report. This includes 85 current farmworkers and 32 former farmworkers. In addition, we interviewed 16 farm dwellers who are not current or former farmworkers, and 14 farm owners or farmers’ association representatives. We also interviewed trade union representatives; labor brokers; civil society members; legal services providers; representatives from the fruit, wine, and alcohol industries; academics; and third-party auditors, among others. We spoke to labor inspectors, government employees, and politicians. Nearly all of the interviews were conducted in person with the exception of a few telephone interviews. In addition, Human Rights Watch exchanged correspondence with some private actors, including retailers and farmers’ associations. • With only a few exceptions, almost all of the farmworkers and farm dwellers worked or lived on farms that produced fruit or grapes for wine. These workers worked in the fields, in on-farm pack houses, or in both.
Interviewees were identified through a variety of methods. In many cases interviews with farmworkers or farm dwellers were arranged with the assistance of organizations that work with or provide services to those populations. Trade unions facilitated interviews with some of their members. Other farmworkers were identified through spending time in communities where they lived. Some farmworkers or farm dwellers whom we approached declined to be interviewed; a few stated that they wanted to tell Human Rights Watch their story but were too afraid that their employer would punish them if they spoke to us. Farm owners were primarily identified through employers’ associations and civil society organizations. Given the precautions that we took to ensure that no negative repercussions arose for interviewees, in almost all cases we interviewed either the farm owners/supervisors, or the farmworkers/dwellers, from a farm, but not both. • For more information on HRW’s methodology please visit: http://www.hrw.org/node/75141
Why the Western Cape? • Western Cape agriculture contributes considerably to South Africa’s economy. The province, which has the greatest number of farmworkers and the second-highest number of farming units in the country after Free State, produces a range of agricultural products, including fruit and wine which are key exports. The Western Cape wine industry is particularly valuable to the South African and provincial economies. • The province hosts six of South Africa’s nine wine-growing regions and most of the country’s vineyards. In 2009 the export value of wine from the Western Cape alone was about 5.91 billion rand (US$700 million). The same year the wine industry contributed an estimated 26,223 million rand (US$3,105 million) to South Africa’s gross domestic product, with over half of that sum remaining in the Western Cape. • The industry also directly and indirectly supports an estimated 275,606 jobs in South Africa, including in the trade, catering, accommodation, and transport sectors. The importance of the wine industry to tourism renders it even more valuable given that the government has identified productive services such as tourism as key to employment creation. Tourism, in turn, is helpful for the wine industry and particularly wine farmers who can generate money by selling to tourists and creating long-term customers.
Our findings • Farmworkers in the Western Cape (province of South Africa) provide critical contributions to the country’s economy/fruit, wine, and tourism industries, but they confront a number of exploitative conditions and human rights abuses. • Many farmworkers work without access to water or toilets; are exposed to toxic pesticides without the proper safety equipment; earn among the lowest wages in South Africa; and are denied legal benefits to which they are entitled. • Workers who live on farms are often given substandard housing, and they and their families are vulnerable to evictions without any place to go if they are forced off the land. • For example, Human Rights Watch interviewed a worker and his family who have been living in a former pig stall for ten years, workers living in metal shipping containers for up to five years, and workers living in structures that do not provide adequate protection from the elements. • In the worst cases, farm dwellers are forced from the land on which they grew up, or are evicted and end up homeless.
The South African government has committed to laws that protect farmworkers and farm dwellers, but for the most part, it has failed to enforce those laws across the province. • At the time of research, in March, the Western Cape had 107 labor inspectors, who were expected to monitor conditions and enforce labor laws on approximately 6000 farms, as well as all other workplaces in the province. Out of all the farmworkers we interviewed, some of whom have spent more than a decade laboring on farms, only a few had ever seen a labor inspector come to the farm. • No government department has an actionable plan to address the short-term needs of evicted farm dwellers • Some farmworkers face obstacles to forming unions, and some farmers explicitly take steps to block union formation.
What is the worst abuse? • In terms of egregious abuses, HRW found that two farms provided dop (wine) to workers, a practice that was outlawed decades ago. One farm provides it daily, apparently as partial compensation; the other provides it instead of overtime payment. • These practices are clearly illegal and also exploitative. • Most farmworkers are denied paid sick leave as required by law. For example, the law requires that farmworkers be provided with sick leave for up to two days without having to provide a medical certificate, but almost all farmworkers HRW spoke to said that they were required to provide a doctor’s letter or clinic letter first, which can be prohibitively expensive or time-consuming for a worker.
Are conditions overall good or poor? • Conditions on farms vary, and we found a range of situations in respect of human rights. • It was the exception, in our research, to find farms that fully complied with all legislation, Only a small handful of the approximately 60 farms we reviewed were fully compliant, particularly because so many farms appear to not provide the legally-required sick leave without a medical certificate. • There were some farms that had a lot of problems. In the worst cases, for example, HRW documented workers who were physically beaten, a worker who was told to work after being declared disabled and then threatened with eviction when he couldn’t, and, in two cases, workers who were provided dop, seemingly as a form of compensation. • A few farms around which we did research, on the other hand, went beyond complying with the law, and provided even greater benefits to workers. For example, farmers and farmworkers described farmers who provide land to workers to grow their own food, who provide educational support to workers or their children, and who set up trusts that benefit workers.
Challenges: Department of Labour • The Department of Labour is in charge of monitoring and enforcing labor laws, but at the time of research, the Western Cape had only 107inspectors who were required to cover approximately 6000 farms and all other workplaces in the province. • HRW interviewed 117 workers and former workers, some of whom had been working for decades, and only 1 worker told us that he had been interviewed by a labor inspector. Farmers also told us that labor inspectors do not frequently visit. One farm operating since 2001 said they had never received a visit from a labor inspector.
Challenges: Rural Development and Land Reform • The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform is seen as the custodian of the current land tenure security law, but has not been able to ensure that farm dwellers are always protected by the law. The Department does not have enough employees focused on providing support to farm dwellers. It also does not track evictions from farms (either legal or illegal), which makes it difficult for government, farmers, and civil society groups to understand the scope of the problem.
Our Recommendations • We are asking the government to better protect farmworkers and farm dwellers, primarily by monitoring and enforcing the labor and tenure security laws that already exist. In addition, the government should devise plans to address the short-term needs of evicted farm dwellers. • We are also asking private actors, including farmers’ associations, industry bodies, and retailers, in South Africa and abroad who buy fruit and wine from the Western Cape to do more to improve conditions on farms and to ensure that farmers comply with all laws and industry codes of conduct. • We think consumer pressure is essential and can make a difference. We are not calling for a boycott, but we are asking consumers to ask about the conditions under which the products they buy are produced, and to explicitly request that products be made available that were grown, harvested, packed, and bottled by producers that are subject to ethical audits.
Government and industry need to encourage best practices as well and profile the Farms that are already doing so. • Government to form an inter-departmental task team that can deal with a range of issues eg legal and illegal evictions, temporary shelter, labour rights etc
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