Agri SA: HRW farm report 'malicious’

By Time of article published Aug 23, 2011

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Agri SA has rejected the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on human rights conditions in South Africa's fruit and wine industries as being “one-sided, malicious, unfair, and highly irresponsible”.

“Agri SA questions the research methodology and therefore the credibility of the relevant findings,” Agri SA president Johannes Möller said on Tuesday.

It should be noted that all deciduous fruit export farms, which were the focus of the HRW investigation, were third party accredited for GlobalGap (good agricultural practices) and Ethical Trade certified as required by the international retail trade.

“It is therefore highly unlikely that the allegations as contained in the report could be a true reflection of prevailing circumstances on farms in the Western Cape,” Moller said.

The HRW report, released earlier on Tuesday, said workers in the province who helped produce South Africa's renowned wines and fruit were denied adequate housing, proper safety equipment, and basic labour rights.

Government, along with the industries employing these labourers, should take immediate steps to improve their working and housing conditions, it said.

The 96-page report - “Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa's Fruit and Wine Industries” - documented conditions that included on-site housing unfit for living, exposure to pesticides without proper safety equipment, lack of access to toilets or drinking water while working, and efforts to block workers from forming unions.

Moller said Agri SA and its affiliates subscribed to national legislation and international norms on labour standards and required from its farmer members to do so as well with due regard to the valued contributions of farm workers to the success of the farming industry and the need to treat them accordingly.

“Where real problems do exist, Agri SA and its affiliates are committed to assist in finding solutions,” he said.

“Agri SA will also not protect any farmer who is guilty of human rights abuses or serious breaches of the law and demands that due legal process should be followed.”

Agri SA questioned the adequacy and composition of the research sample of 260 people. Of these, 85 were apparently farm workers, 32 former farm workers, and 16 farm dwellers.

“How can such a small, and probably carefully selected sample ever be used to describe the situation of 121,000 farm workers,” he asked.

Only 14 farm owners or representatives of farm owners were interviewed representing less than 0.3 percent of the about 5000

producers in the Western Cape.

A wide spectrum of representatives from other organisations formed the balance of the sample.

The report stated that, “in many cases interviews with farm workers or farm dwellers were arranged with the assistance of organisations that work with or provide services to those populations. Trade unions facilitated interviews with some of their members”.

Moller said this resulted in a situation where 161 of those that were interviewed were not directly involved in farming.

“Some of those organisations are also known to be antagonistic towards commercial farmers as well as organised agriculture and have in the past been unwilling to co-operate with the farmer organisations to address alleged transgressions collectively. Agri SA's input was largely ignored.

“It is a potentially dangerous situation for agriculture if perceptions are created by the outcomes of impaired research on which policy decisions could be based.”

Agri SA would therefore welcome objective and authoritative research into the labour conditions on farms as well as into the drivers of certain trends.

“For this reason Agri SA is consulting with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as an independent body to facilitate such research,” Möller said. - Sapa

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