Human Rights Watch Author Defends Report on South African Wine

Yesterday, South Africa-born filmmaker Adam Welz and I had an exchange on my recent post on labor conditions in South Africa’s wine country, which discussed a Human Rights Watch report on the topic. I asked the report’s lead researcher and author, human-rights lawyer and writer Kaitlin Y. Cordes, to join the conversation. Her response follows.

In the course of interviewing over 260 people about the human rights situation of farmworkers and farm dwellers in the Western Cape province of South Africa, my colleagues and I uncovered a range of exploitative conditions and rights abuses. The information from these interviews were documented in Human Rights Watch’s report, Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries, which was subsequently discussed in Tom Philpott’s article, “South Africa’s Wine Woes.”

The stories I was told by farmworkers and farm dwellers ranged in severity and composition, but what was perhaps most astonishing to me was that very few of the workers with whom I spoke had no problems of which to tell me. Of course, this does not mean that there are no farms without problems. As the report points out, conditions on farms vary, and some farm owners go beyond full compliance with the law to provide a number of other benefits to workers. Ripe with Abuse enumerates a number of these better practices. Yet the situations I discovered were not simply isolated incidents.

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