Western Cape Government Responds to Human Rights Watch Report
Gerrit van Rensburg, Western Cape Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Alan Winde, Western Cape Minister of Economic Development, today met with representatives of Human Rights Watch, an international organisation which yesterday released a report on alleged abuses of farm worker rights on Western Cape fruit and wine farms.
The report, entitled "Ripe with Abuse", paints a sombre picture of the work and living conditions of the more than 121 000 farm workers in the Province. These findings are based on interviews conducted amongst 117 current, and previous, farm workers in the Province.
Van Rensburg and Winde thanked Human Rights Watch for bringing these matters to their attention and, additionally, for emphasising that the solution lies in local hands.
Van Rensburg said the wellbeing of farm workers has always been one of his passions and, as Minister of Agriculture, it is one of his top priorities. He said that the report's findings represent extreme and isolated cases within an otherwise sound agricultural sector that we can be proud of: "I know the majority of Western Cape farmers are abiding by all laws applicable to them."
Van Rensburg said all deciduous fruit export farms are accredited for global good agricultural practices (GAP) and Ethical Trade certified, as required by the international retail trade. It is therefore highly unlikely that the report's allegations represent the reality of the vast majority of our farms. "However, this issue touches us all, and even one abused farm worker is one too many."
Winde said: "The health of our farm workers is directly tied to the health of the industry. The small number of rogue elements highlighted in the report are jeopardising the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farm workers and are undoing the efforts of those farmers who are transferring wealth to their employees. They must therefore be reported to the police and dealt with decisively. We are pleased to note that the National Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, is taking this matter as seriously as we are."
Van Rensburg expressed his disappointment on the absence of positive interventions regarding farm workers in the report. "The Western Cape Department of Agriculture is unique in South Africa for being the only provincial department with a dedicated Farm Worker Development Programme. This Programme drives the only provincial Farm Worker of the Year Competition in South Africa. There were more than 1 000 entries last year, so surely the drafters came across some testimonials in this regard during their research. If so - they chose to exclude them nonetheless."
Van Rensburg also noted that the report makes no reference to the Western Cape Prestige Farm Worker Forum, although he knows some of its members were interviewed. This body, represented by all the previous winners of the Farm Worker Competition, has a direct line to the Minister and regularly meets with him on issues affecting farm workers. "I have a need to speak with farm workers, not only about them," van Rensburg said.
He also found it disappointing that the success of equity share schemes as a means of agricultural empowerment amongst farm workers in the Western Cape receives no mention. The Western Cape is unique within the South African context in this regard, with more than 90 of these schemes, of which 90% are operating successfully. These schemes are based on trust and goodwill between farmers and farm workers. It is also the only land reform model where farm workers are the beneficiaries of agricultural empowerment. This is in stark contrast to other land reform and agricultural empowerment initiatives elsewhere in the country. "Surely the drafters should have picked up on this unique aspect of the farm worker environment in the Western Cape?"
Van Rensburg presented Human Rights Watch with two books: Abundant Harvest Western Cape Agriculture Success Stories and Bourgogne Western Cape Vines and Life, Encounters and Sharing. "These books are our reports on progress and success stories in the Western Cape agricultural sector," van Rensburg said.
Winde said the next step regarding the Human Rights Watch Report would be to adopt a firm action plan, across all spheres of government and industry, to correct current wrongs identified in the report. "I do not want to receive the same report in two years time." He urged Human Rights Watch to share their information with the police on instances where laws were transgressed, so that they may be investigated immediately and dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Minister van Rensburg added: "If you do not assist the South African Police in this regard, you should take note of the fact that the fruit and wine industries could consider to initiate legal steps against Human Rights Watch in terms of name defamation or potential loss of income."
Winde concluded: "We believe that a sustainable industry is one that abides by the law. We must see to it that the good practices adopted by the majority of farms across the Province become the norm at each and every establishment without exception."
Spokesperson for Minister Winde
Cell: 082 378 2235
Spokesperson for Minister van Rensburg
Cell: 079 694 3085