Danish filmmaker vindicated by wine farm probe

18 November 2016 - 02:00 By TMG Digital

Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann says his exposé of the poor treatment of workers at some of the country’s top wine estates has been vindicated by an investigation by the Department of Labour.

Western Cape economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde said on Thursday that clear evidence had been found by the department of some employees being poorly treated.

“This was never‚ ever acceptable‚ and it still isn’t. It will not be tolerated‚” Winde said after being briefed by the national Department of Labour.

The department probed allegations contained in Heinemann’s documentary‚ entitled Bitter Grapes — Slavery in the Vineyards‚ which has been aired in Denmark and Sweden.

The Scandinavian region consumes 50-million litres of South African wine a year.

Heinemann told TMG Digital on Friday that he welcomed the findings. “I have for a long time known that the authorities were investigating the very same farms that appeared in my film … and I truly welcome the preliminary results as an official confirmation on my findings‚” he said.

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“For the last weeks‚ various wine industry bodies have done all they could to ‘shoot the messenger boy’ - calling me biased and one-sided - instead of dealing with the root courses of the poor conditions at many farms.

“After Alan Winde’s statement‚ I sincerely hope that the industry understands that the violations are not something that you just can hide away by locking the gates‚ dismissing outspoken workers or neglecting official health and safety standards‚” he added.

The airing of the documentary resulted in some supermarkets in Denmark taking South African wines off their shelves.

The documentary described widespread violations of labour laws‚ exposure to toxic pesticides without protective gear‚ shocking living conditions and an unofficial “dop” system.

Winde said on Thursday that he was briefed on the findings of the department’s investigation into the allegations and welcomed the contravention notices issued to some farms.

“Of particular concern were the contraventions found at one farm‚ where workers did not have access to safe drinking water‚ and where housing was not of an acceptable standard‚” Winde said.

He said that‚ although the law gave the farmer 14 days to deal with the most critical failures‚ he had instructed the farm worker support unit within the Western Cape agriculture department to assist in improving the situation.

Winde said he would be meeting with provincial social development MEC Albert Fritz to put systems in place to detect any violations on farms timeously‚ through the provincial department of social development’s network of social workers.

He said offenders would be rooted out.

“We will take a hard line against these acts‚ and root out offenders. We cannot allow unethical operations at some farms to put people’s well-being and an entire industry‚ which employs over 200,000 people‚ in jeopardy‚” Winde said.

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