News Update

Fair Trade Wines Bring Human Rights to Producers

Posted September 3rd 2009

By Zack Gross Featured in The Brandon Sun, July 25, 2009

There is no longer any reason to whine! Manitoba has become a leader in bringing in eight fair trade certified wines to its Liquor Marts around the province, sourced from South Africa and Argentina. A new crop of Chilean wines should double the number of fair trade wines currently available by autumn. Available at your local wine outlet now are four wines from Fairhills (two from South Africa and two from Argentina, two from Wandering Grape (one each from South Africa and Argentina), and two from Winds of Change from South Africa. Representatives from distributing companies report growing interest and brisk sales.

A recent poll by Probe Research of 1000 Manitobans indicated that more than half our province’s citizens can define the term “fair trade”, and that two-thirds of us are interested in purchasing fair trade products if they are clearly identifiable in stores and restaurants. In the vineyards of fair trade producers, there is no child labour, many operations are organized as co-operatives or with union labour, salaries and safety measures are ensured as supportive of workers’ rights, and a “Fair Trade Premium” is used to improve the daily lives of wine-growing communities through educational or primary health initiatives. Polls looking at US consumer demand for fair trade show a 53% annual increase in sales and a 33% annual growth rate in consumer awareness. Interestingly, while 30% of people aware of organics actually buy organic products, almost double that figure - 56% - of those aware of fair trade principles purchase fairly traded products.

One of the great abuses of the wine industry in South Africa, since the1600s, has been the Dop System, wherein part of the workers’ wages was paid in free cups of wine, laying the foundation for centuries of alcoholism and, therefore, many health and social problems. Even after the practice was outlawed in 1961, it continued for another generation. Fair Trade Certification guarantees that this is not the case. While demand for “New World” wine has grown exponentially in recent years, certification has stood against allowing the pressure of demand to outweigh the ethical need for fair wages, safe conditions and community economic development programs.

Wine growing in South Africa has also taken on the dimension, in fair trade, of supporting the empowerment of black entrepreneurship in the post-Apartheid era. In Argentina and Chile, small family farms cultivating wine grapes have been susceptible to low market prices and haven’t been able to generate enough income to meet their families’ basic needs. This has meant that poor farmers haven’t been able to improve their methods or technology, and often meant that they ultimately have lost control of their land to large business competitors. Whether in the wine industry, or for other commodities such as nuts, flowers or spices, “fair trade” is an option that will hopefully improve livelihoods for the poor.

While Manitoba’s Liquor Stores are, for the most part, outlets of the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission (MLCC), in the United States, people can buy beer in gas stations, and wine and hard liquor in grocery stores and even at Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart and the US’ largest member-only warehouse chain. Beverage News Daily reports, in its March 17th, 2009 edition, Sam’s Club launching of its second Fair Trade Certified Argentinean Wine, Solombra Reserva, as a Merlot and Pinot Grigio, produced and bottled at La RioJana Cooperative. Workers there are guaranteed a fair price based on an analysis of cost of living in their area and 10% extra goes to local schools, clinics and other community necessities. In this case, Transfair USA, the American national certification body, is working on behalf of Sam’s Club with the local community on a full-service medical centre. Sam’s Club had previously launched its first fair trade certified Argentinean wine in November 2008, and has also brought in fair trade coffee, citing increased consumer demand.

You can please your palate and your thirst for ethical production by purchasing fair trade wines. A glass of certified fair trade wine brings new meaning to the expression “drink responsibly”!

Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), a coalition of over 40 international development organizations active in our province. For more articles by Zack Gross, visit

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This program was made possible with financial support of the Government of Manitoba,
and was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada (GAC)

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