Is ethical wine, ethical?

Neil Pendock July 18, 2012 5

Prompted by @bohoparadox to write about WIETA (Agricultural Ethical Trading Initiative which somehow anagrams down to WIETA) I made some calls. With the fabulous Olympic Fairtrade Stellenrust wines of Tertius Boshoff making the front page of the Sunday Times, I wondered why the 35 registered Fairtrade producers (representing 40-50 growers) should pay twice to be ethical.

Once to Fairtrade in London to register, then local auditing fees to check compliance and 2% of their wholesale price to Fairtrade SA for marketing, when they already pay the WOSA levy on exports.  This year, WOSA gifted WIETA R1.5 million plus the dubious services of their CEO as a director. A time consuming task which saw her duck the public criticisms of Johann Rupert at the Vinpro Information Day earlier this year via a conveniently clashing WIETA board meeting that fooled no one. Auditing does not come cheap at between R8 and R12k a day for WIETA plus travel and accommodation costs and various other add-ons like R1,400 for a SEDEX report, whatever that may be.

This year WOSA assigned over 4% of its budget to WIETA and producers like Distell (Nederburg, Place in the Sun), DGB, Spier, Van Loveren, Bovlei, Linton Park, African Terroir, Overhex, Uniwines, Thandi and Cape First who have chosen the Fairtrade route to market should request a refund of 4.34% of their WOSA levies.  In addition, WIETA should be billed for the services of Su Birch and other WOSA technical advisers at market related rates as WOSA already lives well beyond its financial means.

WIETA, Utz and Fairtrade = WUF Wines. Should SA producers throw this mutt a bone?  Ten questions for the ethical philosophers to debate in their caves or dance on the heads of their pins.

  1. Why should third world producers in Rawsonville fund ethical executives in London, not the cheapest office space on the planet?
  2. How ethical is WUF wine, exported in bulk and bottled in the UK, when by doing so, jobs are lost  in SA?
  3. How ethical is it for the IOC to buy Brazilian or SA and spend huge carbon miles in the process when European bulk lies across the Channel?  The Brazilian wine can’t even bark even though there is some Gamay Nouveau in the blend.
  4. How ethical is alcohol, per se? Can you have WUF cigarettes if you pay tobacco farm labour a fair wage?  What about WUF cocaine?
  5. Are screw caps ethical if they put peasant cork farmers out of business and make the Iberian lynx extinct?
  6. How ethical is it for the IOC to sell Stellenrust Chenin at the equivalent of £19.20 a 750ml bottle and deny UK producers a commercial showcase when they are picking up the hefty Olympic bills via their tax?  Does Stellenrust Chenin really sell for £19.20 in Tesco’s?
  7. How can SA producers fund two competing ethical trade initiatives which will lead to consumer confusion, increased bureaucracy and sky-rocketing costs?
  8. Does the UK and its self-declared culture of binge drinking really need an Olympic wine?
  9. Can a non-organic wine ever be ethical?
  10. Can a product made from an alien invader species in the Cape fynbos biome ever be ethical?


  1. Peter F May July 18, 2012 at 2:56 pm -

    Cracking and though provoking post !!

    But ref point 8.Does the UK and its self-declared culture of binge drinking really need an Olympic wine?

    Such was the chaos of ticket issuing in the UK it seems there will be very few UK people in the stands or eligible to buy this wine to go with the McDonalds gourmet meal

  2. Pieter Cronje July 18, 2012 at 4:07 pm -

    Hi Neil. I can only talk for FT wines. We happily pay license fees to FT executives that market the category successfully on our behalf. Not perfect to ship in Bulk, regardless of it being FT or non-FT, but economics are against us and SAWIS stats shows it. In the FT value chain the worker is the most important person and they earn their premium if shipped in Bottle or in Bulk. It support change on ground level and for that we must thank the retailers and generation generocity consumer that participate.

    The EU has done a market research on food labels, and that included Fairtrade. Fairtrade has been found to be the most recognised and supported food label in Europe, with 36% of awareness across Europe and peaks of 80% in certain markets, such as the UK. Find more information here:

  3. Mike Ratcliffe July 19, 2012 at 7:39 am -

    Perhaps this should be chapter one in the book entitled ‘Stupidity in the world of wine’.
    Good post.

  4. Bennii Van Rooy July 19, 2012 at 9:03 am -

    Having worked with ethical code implementation in the wine industry and understanding the requirements to comply for market sake there is a grave concern that the seal may become ‘flavour of the month’ kind of initiative. There are many real intentions and commitments to improve workers lives, but there are also those that will use it.

    In terms of rolling out the seal: Terming it ‘fast tracking’ was not ideal. Firstly any system that’s rushed is not sustainable. Secondly, it brings a focus to a documentation tick list driven process instead of bringing real change to workers because it will be managed like a sausage machine.

    Lastly. Fairtrade is an ISO 65 accredited system, i.e. the methodologies, processes and operations have been vetted by the International Standards Organisation making it easy to market and recognize. Wieta, although our own valuable, home grown initiative is still subjective and being tied to Wosa leaves itself open to be bias in terms of only reporting good news and not balance that with advocacy for workers in need and decisions and methodologies and processes decided by a select few with vested interest.

    Both systems have their place. Fairtrade is a valuable, structured way to bring about economic development. Even if people don’t do accreditation, the model is genius to use for this purpose. It is expensive though – and you have sell enough wine to get return on investment. For a struggling wine company Wieta is the answer to comply to an ethical standard. There are many positives about Wieta, being South African specific is for one a key feature, multi-stakeholder the next. But it needs to be kept accountable. The organization responsible for farmworker welfare can not be biased or be an obstacle to real transformation. And maybe ISO 65 accreditation needs to be considered so producers get value for money.

  5. Peter F May July 21, 2012 at 12:51 pm -

    Whatever its supposed merits, Fairtrade Wine has a poor reputation in UK which is not undeserved, imo*.
    While UK supermarket shoppers look out for Fairtrade bananas and coffee the Fairtrade logo on a wine is a deterrent. Fairtrade need to overcome this perception.

    *with the honourable exception of the Bosman wines under the Tesco brand which has pleased people at my tastings and surprised them when they see the logo

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