HRW alleges abuses in South African wine industry

Tue Aug 23, 2011 3:39am EDT
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By Agnieszka Flak

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Workers at vineyards producing South Africa's internationally renowned wines are denied many of their basic rights, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said on Tuesday.

Wine and fruit farms are a big contributor to South Africa's economy and major export earners, especially in the Western Cape province that is home to six of the country's nine wine growing regions and most of its vineyards.

Quoting research based on interviews with more than 260 people, the report from the global rights group said farm workers lived in harsh conditions and were exposed to pesticides while working without adequate protection.

"Workers also often have no access to drinking water, hand washing facilities, or toilets as required by labor regulations," it said.

While there are farms where employers fully complied with the law and went beyond what was legally required in the services they provided, the HRW said there was a lack of sufficient inspectors to monitor conditions on all farms.

"Labor inspectors have failed to ensure that farmers comply with these health and safety regulations," the report said.

HRW said more than half of the farm workers in the province were casual or seasonal workers. Many of them are unaware what rights they are legally entitled to.

"When farmworkers are ill or injured, as is fairly common, they are often refused legally required sick leave," it said.   Continued...