South Africa remains "fairly high up” on Swedish liquor monopoly Systembolaget's list of wine suppliers entailing "risk" (along with California and Chile), but the company this week applauded the steps taken by the local wine industry in the area of social responsibility.
The praise is being hailed as a victory for South Africa, which has been under scrutiny following a damning report by Human Rights Watch in 2011, and high-profile protests over farm wages in the Western Cape in recent months.
South African winemakers responded to the criticism by improving the working and living conditions of their workers, and in September, the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) launched an ethical seal for wineries with fair-labor practices. The latter initiative was a result of pressure from the Swedish monopoly, Wines of South Africa CEO Su Birch said at the launch of the seal.
At a news conference in Cape Town on Wednesday, Systembolaget – which runs the only stores in Sweden allowed to sell drinks with more than 3.5 percent alcohol by volume – revealed that WIETA accreditation could become a requirement of its tender process.
South African wine producers will be paying close attention, as Sweden is the country’s fourth-largest export market.
Systembolaget CEO Magdalena Gerger said a major priority for the monopoly was to promote a supply chain which was fair and honest towards people and the environment – requirements which ranked high for Swedish consumers.
“We believe anyone involved in the making of the products we sell should earn a living wage," said Gerger. "We are at present involved in the revision of the code of conduct for the Nordic countries [Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and their territories] and there is every indication that the revised code, which is expected to come into effect in 2014, will contain a ‘living wage’ condition."
Gerger added that although the "energy and enthusiasm devoted in South Africa to the corporate social responsibility aspects of the production process are truly inspiring, there is still room for improvement.”