by Eliza Ward, Fairtrade Foundation
6.5 million litres, or 100 glasses a minute, of Fairtrade wine was sold in the UK in 2011. This is a fantastic figure on its own, and represented a 6% volume, and 12% value, increase on 2010. It’s encouraging news in a virtually flat, and in some places declining, wine market.
But what about the farm workers? How do these sales affect them? Workers on Fairtrade certified farms in South Africa must be paid at least the national minimum wage rate and often receive over this amount, but for every litre of wine sold as Fairtrade, they receive a little extra, the Fairtrade premium, to invest in social and environmental projects. Every five years workers democratically elect a committee to meet every month to discuss and decide how to invest their premium money.
According to Mina Sass, a premium committee member at Stellenrust in South Africa; ‘you can really see the difference Fairtrade has made here. Before Fairtrade, things weren’t going all that well, but now we can definitely see a number of benefits: we pay the school fees of our children using premium money and at the beginning of the year, we buy stationary and school uniforms.’
Bonnie Heneke is a farm worker, and chair of Stellenrust’s Fairtrade Premium committee. ‘Fairtrade has changed the lives of the people on this farm – I can assure you!’ she exclaims. ‘I’m proud to say that I now know how many sick and annual leave days I have every year. Before Fairtrade, the farmers could decide how much to pay their workers. Today, we know that we are entitled to a minimum salary and that we are being paid wages above that minimum.’
There was more great news for workers in 2012 when it was announced that two of the three official Olympic wines would be Fairtrade certified, from the Stellenrust producer group. This resulted in over a million bottles of Fairtrade wine being sold there, fantastic sales volume for the group, and showing off delicious tasting wine to the millions of London 2012 visitors.
‘The premium we earned from the sale of our wines at the Olympics went towards completing one of our latest projects, a food kitchen,’ Bonnie says. ‘Making sure that our kids eat a healthy and nutritious diet is quite a challenge, since their parents spend a lot of time at work on the farm,’ she explains. ‘At the new kitchen, they can have breakfast, make lunch boxes for school and come for something to eat afterwards. It will make a great difference to our lives and theirs.’
‘By allowing us to provide for ourselves, our families and our community,’ says Heneke, ‘Fairtrade has given us the ability to lead a decent life.’ It seems that at Stellenrust, and many other producer groups throughout South Africa, Chile and Argentina, Fairtrade has clear benefits for farm workers; but this also provides a fantastic opportunity to us as consumers to make a choice in our everyday shopping basket, to look for that little green and blue label, and while we sip a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc or warming Malbec, we can know that we are making a significant difference to the lives of people working so hard to produce it for us.