The seamy side of ethical wine trading

The gloves are off in the battle between two ethically traded wine certifications: Fairtrade, the billion dollar global gold standard and WIETA, the home grown version created and nurtured by Su Birch, recently retired WOSA CEO, with a board featuring some energetic directors who fomented last year’s farm worker riots that brought the industry to its knees.

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A recent tender from Swedish liquor monopoly Systembolaget calls for WIETA accredited wines and Fairtrade just won’t do.  Fairtrade producers are screaming gross irregularity for Systembolaget to interfere in the ethics of SA wine trading and the reaction of Fairtrade SA CEO Boudewijn Goossens is eagerly awaited. SA produces most of the world’s Fairtrade wine, so this is make or break for Fairtrade as an ethical standard for wine.

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WIETA seems to be being managed by Vinpro CEO Rico Basson who offers to send Su out to Fairtrade producers to help them convert from Fairtrade to WIETA, waving the audit fees.  So an industry that thought it had seen the back of divisive Su is in for a shock – she has returned as WIETA enforcer. And this time, no more Mr. Nice Guy!

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After several years trying to persuade producers to sign up for WIETA on the merits of the organization and the ethics of its vision, it’s starting to look like commercial blackmail of producers to force them to switch from Fairtrade to WIETA.  Why is Vinpro doing this?  Fairtrade must be surely considering a legal remedy to stop itself becoming the Beta Format video to WIETA’s VHS.

Do SA farmers understand that Vinpro has effectively launched a Shock and Awe attack on Fairtrade? What will happen to producers who embraced Fairtrade in good faith and now see themselves excluded from Systembolaget tenders? Who is driving this bus and why is Vinpro rushing farmers R600 (early bird special, R700 after 11 December) to attend their information day next year?

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Do Swedish drinkers know that their purchases are being used to “persuade” recalcitrant SA farmers to abandon Fairtrade and embrace WIETA with its controversial and sometimes radical political agendas?  Of course the big losers will be farm workers employed by Fairtrade producers.  But do any of these cynical politicians care about the plight of the workers at all?