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Can inspections and audits lead to positive change in South Africa?

In March and April 2017 Vinmonopolet conducted 22 inspections at South African cellars and on farms producing grapes.



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The aim was to see whether there are systematic issues that should be addressed and to find out how Vinmonopolet can contribute to necessary improvements. As all products sold at Vinmonopolet, should be produced according to our Code of Conduct, inspections were based on some of the most critical areas related to the amfori BSCI Code of Conduct

Our method?  

Vinmonopolet employed an independent auditor and translator to complete inspections based on eight points from our Code of Conduct that are closely related to the Labor Legislation, The right to freedom of Association and betterment of communication. 

A Vinmonopolet employee, originally from South Africa, coordinated and shadowed the inspections and provided presentations for producers, trade unions and other organizations. 

The results 

The results indicated that 59 % of the facilities inspected had in one way or another not followed the legal guidelines. Hence, they were classified as high risk. We also found that communication between employers and employees should be improved  

In several of the cases, management procedures ensuring that legal requirements were met, were lacking.  Once made aware of these issues at the facilities and the corrections needed, changes were implemented almost immediately and at almost all producers. 

We received clear indications from those that we inspected that they were not only willing to implement the required changes for better business practices but also wanted to meet national and international standards. Their only request was “Do not set us up to fail. Empower us and give us sufficient information and skills among workers and farm management, so to meet the standards.” 

Many of our future efforts will thus not only be on inspections but also empowerment through capacity building for producers and farms, and for workers, workers representatives and shop stewards (labor unions). 

We identified four cases of verbal abuse and within those four, two cases have had singular episodes of physical abuse.  

Once identified, we immediately informed the Brand Owners of these cases and that Vinmonopolet has a zero tolerance policy for verbal or physical abuse.  The Brand Owners almost instantaneously took steps warranting betterment, whilst aiming to protect the workers. (In such cases, it is extremely important that the workers are protected from any future victimization and the cases are addressed with the needed sensitivity for the current situation.) 

Vinmonopolet believes that the solution to verbal abuse is zero tolerance for such behavior. Employers and employees should be addressed in the manner that they wish to be spoken to themselves.

As mentioned above, two cases of physical abuse were identified,

The one case had been reported to the police, before our inspections. The case was registered by the employee and the local trade union/political party was already involved.  

At the other case identified, the employee(s) did not want to register a police case. Social workers have been employed to provide trauma debriefing and follow up for all parties involved. Here the Brand Owner and Coop played an empirical role in the process towards remedy and betterment. 

Where trade unions were not present, the Brand Owners promoted trade union membership, so to assist the employees in knowing more about their rights and get assistance when needed. The person that had acted violently also had to take the necessary steps to ask for forgiveness for all previous actions and to complete anger management interventions. The workers have now reported to the Brand Owners and Coop that these changes and services have led to numerous positive developments on personal and interpersonal levels. Shortly summarized, the employees feel more empowered and the work situations have improved for all in this particular case.

Our impression was that the Brand Owners and Coops did not know of these four situations and responded in a variety of positive ways. They assisted for example by:  

Providing assistance to both workers and employers to ensure betterment 

Promoting private social services at farm level, so to help remedy the situation 

Promoting worker rights and the involvement of trade unions.  


Satisfactory improvements have been reported at all but two facilities since March 2017 and we are in close contact with the Brand Owners that are coordinating efforts for improvement.  

After a variety of efforts had been made at one farm and not seeing satisfactory changes, a Brand owner notified a Coop (owned by its sub-suppliers) that they no longer will be purchasing any products from the specified farm(s) for the product sold at Vinmonopolet. They are willing to reconsider purchasing again, once the required improvements are made on the farm and can be proved by February 2018. 

Vinmonopolet will be conducting follow up inspections in February, March, July and August 2018 in South Africa

In conclusion

We experience that internally in the South African wine industry there is now greater dialogue among Brand Owners on how to tackle ethical issues. 

They no longer wish that the industry be tainted by sub-suppliers that do not follow legal guidelines or the most ethical ways of doing business.  

Previously the Brands, Cellars and Coops accepted certificates for fair labor practices. Now they are asking for detailed reports and remediation plans to be submitted with the certificates, so to ensure the most ethical supply of grapes to their products.  Remediation plans are also followed up more closely by the Brand Owners that have employed persons to assist farmers in meeting all requirements and having better business practices.

Our future work in South Africa

As mentioned in the beginning of this article, we wanted to determine if there were any violations against our Code of Conduct as the TV documentary Bitter Grapes indicated poor working conditions in the South African wine industry. Did we come across conditions as shown in the documentary? The answer is unfortunately yes.  

We will therefore continue our work in South Africa. 

We have established positive cooperation with trade unions, brand owners, coops and farms wanting to work towards positive change and betterment. 

In 2018, we are planning to conduct more inspections, but are also hoping to provide capacity building and empowerment initiatives. 

The goal: Betterment through cooperation and dialogue and that full BSCI audits can be passed in 2019 with pride. 

Is there a willingness and desire for positive change? Absolutely. We have experienced a positive attitude and a desire from the producers’ side to comply with our Code of Conduct. 

Do inspections and audits lead to positive change? There our answer is: IT MIGHT, but it is probably more effective to combine audits with other tools such as active dialogue with all stakeholders, training and empowerment.   

Vinmonopolet is simply stating the benchmark and assisting where we can. 

Industry ownership is imperative for success and we now observe the willingness for improvement and ownership. 

You can read the report from the 22 inspections here

Inspections of South African Wine producers and sub suppliers of grapes in march 2017

In March and April 2017 Vinmonopolet conducted 22 inspections at South African cellars and on farms producing grapes. Read about the original plans for the inspections here.