Su Birch, CEO of exporters’ mouthpiece WOSA for well over a decade, launched an extraordinary attack on her constituency earlier this month on the WOSA blog. Announcing a push for WIETA, the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association, she claimed:
“We have over 3600 primary producers, many enlightened, others still trapped in the old ways of thinking. Some producers are ignorant, some are useless at paperwork so have no systems, others are fearful, many of them are barely surviving financially. But because South Africa has a shameful past, not just as recent as apartheid, but dating back to colonial exploitation and slavery, we have to acknowledge that we cannot say we are leaders in production integrity when there are still farmers who do not treat their workers fairly.”
Such incendiary comments in public throw gasoline on the fire ignited by last year’s Human Rights Watch claim that SA wine farmer’s still practice slave labour and one can only speculate as to what Su hoped to achieve by such an amazing attack on the people who ultimately pay her generous salary.
Whatever the motivation, comments like these are certainly not the best way to advance fair trade wine in SA and will lead to polarization and hardening of attitudes. Indeed one particularly ignorant wine farmer told me “Su is the Julius Malema of SA wine.”