This is a guest blog from Amanda Barnes: Wine Blogger (@amanda_tweeter)
Fairtrade and any sustainable practices have always interested me, especially when it comes to the wine world. I’ve visited many vineyards and wineries, and know how tough the job can be – as well as sometimes romantic and engaging. But having visited a few wineries with different certifications the reaction of producers can sometimes be rather lacklustre. Paperwork and lots of admin brings a certain malaise, and sometimes bureaucracy takes the shine off of admirable certifications like organic, biodynamic and indeed Fairtrade. It can feel for the visitor, and for the producer, that they are just ticking boxes.
I guess I was hoping my trip to Bosman Family Vineyards would bring back that shine. And that it did. The whole community there shone – radiant with happiness, hope and promise.
What I found at Bosman is that Fairtrade is not just about certificates and filled forms (although there are many!) but about people.
The week was a very personal experience – from giggling with women in the vineyards and welling up with emotion listening to people share intimate experiences of their lives, to visiting the vegetable patch of the proud winner of the gardens competition on the free social housing, and feeding a baby in my arms at the workers’ creche. It was a week of meeting people, personalities, stories and aspirations.
I have no doubt that there are many unique qualities in Bosman Family Vineyards: the philanthropical history of the family which meant many of the initiatives were in place pre-certification, the large work base and production which affords greater opportunities, and the dedicated and enthusiastic work force. I also don’t doubt that South Africa, as the world’s largest Fairtrade producer and as a nation, has a very strong social and sustainable ethic.
But what I also saw at Bosman last week was a glimpse of all that Fairtrade is and can be: a fairer opportunity to have a good standard of life.
Fair isn’t about perfect – it would be naive to say any business or anyone could reach perfection – but it is about better experiences and perspective. The experience that the Fairtrade Premium aims to offer is opportunity, support and freedom; and the perspective gained by workers is through empowerment and education. All of these elements shone at Bosman:
- Opportunity to make your own decisions, change the direction of your life and create new horizons.
The decision-taking power that people felt from the extra leeway that Fairtrade money gave them was inspirational. I met many parents who were now able send their children to further education for the first time; adults who were able to study and take courses; and social clubs that had taken flight. In particular, I met Marian and Sherina, two teenage girls who were part of the Bosman karate club for teenagers. They knew that joining a social activity after school would spare them from the temptation of drug-taking (a huge problem in the rural areas), and so they joined the Fairtrade-funded karate club. Both are now national champions and teach karate to younger kids. They have travelled (on a plane for the first time), they have met many new people, and their life ambitions are completely redefined. In my own life I had taken for granted something so small, like an after school activity, but here the girls knew how profound an effect it had had on their lives and the opportunities before them.
- Support of health, safety, finance and emotional.
Elizabeth does not only work at Bosman and is on the Premium Committee but she is also a mother, of a recovering alcoholic son. She told me that Fairtrade money had given her son the chance to go to Rehab, and her family the chance for a new start. Before the outlook was bleak: her son was abusive and her family were powerless and falling apart. But now her son has returned, rehabilitated, to work and to family life. The financial, health and emotional support that Fairtrade has provided has not just enabled her son to begin a better life, but her entire family. She told me with a huge smile of relief that the whole family can talk now, and that they are happy, there is love and they are closer than ever.
- Freedom to make choices.
Mariaan is the Health & Safety Co-ordinator of Bosman. When I met Mariaan she was six months pregnant, but this wasn’t her first child. Her first child was born ten years ago when she worked in a different company. She had to spend months without pay once she gave birth, and then lost the majority of her salary towards childcare afterwards for many years. Now she works for a Fairtrade company, she said she is safe in the knowledge that she will receive maternity pay, will not have to work in dangerous situations and can return to work with a free creche service after 6 months. Her choice is to return to work, she is clearly proud of her role in the company, and she is happy to have options in making her own decision regarding childcare and work. Having a child is supposed to be an exciting and joyous moment, but when you don’t have support it can be a burden and stressful, Mariaan told us that this time around she felt no pressure and had the freedom to talk to her boss about the situation and her needs.
- Education to encourage awareness and reach new ambitions.
Saul started as security guy on the farm ten years ago, but now he says he is at a position he never dreamed of reaching: in charge of stock control and the Chairman of the housing committee. Clearly proud of his growing responsibilities at work, he thanks the community and support network for his growing education. Living on the farm with his two daughters, he is also grateful for the education opportunities his youngest daughter has received from being at the pre-school where she was fostered in a learning environment, and is now achieving her grades at Primary School – something which he believes will set her and the new generation many more education opportunities for the future. Being part of the Bosman company, and having Fairtrade money to support pre-school and further education has given he and his family new horizons.
- Empowerment to believe that you can achieve new heights, and realise it.
Rita is a fifth generation of the Apollis family on the farm, and she grew up with the Bosman family and was empowered and inspired by them. In particular, she talks of her admiration for Mrs Bosman for whom her grandmother worked for. They would spend hours together listening to Mrs Bosman play the piano – an ambition Rita has since realised, and is now an accomplished pianist and leads the Bosman Adama choir. As well as artistic growth, Rita has had an impressive career growth. Having started on the farm working in the vineyards as a general worker, she was asked by Mr Bosman to work in the office in 2002 and since then has moved up the ladder in company management, and now she is the Chairman of the Farmer’s Union in the whole Cape region. She has bought her first house and lives in the nearby town.
All this from an extra 5 pence on a bottle of wine?
Well no, the driving force behind Fairtrade isn’t financial. It also isn’t the form filling and bureaucracy – although that certification may be the best way to know and trust how that extra donation is being spent. But the heart of Fairtrade is people. It is the families, owners and workers that are together working towards a greater experience and perspective in the places that they live. In the case of Bosman Family Vineyards – and I’m sure many of The Co-Op’s producers – this is a company and family that were already striving for all the above before becoming Fairtrade. However that extra funding, the Fairtrade Premium, is invaluable in giving that extra power and support to situations in which people need it. The heart of Fairtrade is not just about the people receiving it, but it is also coming from those that buy and support it from abroad. Fairtrade is a unity between people in many countries, in many social groups, in many living situations, to together work towards a more empowered and free world.
All of that for enjoying a good bottle of wine? To me, that seems more than fair.