June 15, 2007

Stormhoek and Corporate Social Responsibility

One of the groups mentioned in the recent discussions on the Blog-Marketed, South African wine Stormhoek -- a conversation ripe with questions about how much the company is doing to remedy the social ills in South Africa that stem from its industry and the legacy of the dop system -- is the Women on Farms Project. (Another is ActionAid, which is broader in focus).

I noticed these two groups in this article from 2006, "Worker Pleads with Tesco to Honor the Fruits of Her Labor, which South African blogger Mike Golby linked to in his post, "Tell The Truth, Nigga." From what I have read, my understanding is that Gertruida Baartman became a spokesperson for underpaid laborers in her fight to secure a wage more than the three dollars and change per day she was being paid to pick fruit for Tesco.

Awareness of Ms. Baartman shamed Tesco into action on Baartman's behalf. (ActionAid bought one share in Tesco in Baartman's name, giving her the right to speak up at the retailer's annual meeting. The share cost about the same as she earns for her nine-hour shifts.). But what has happened since then?

What are companies like Tesco and Stormhoek doing to make sure that paying wages in the currency of booze (still prevalent on 3 to 5 percent of South African vineyards according to one estimate) stops? What is being done to help displaced workers--when the CSR action of the day is to say: OKAY you sixth generation live-in laborer, you're free to go. (What? No mule? No 40 acres?) What are these companies doing to help reverse the alarming rate of alcoholism and fetal alcohol syndrome that are a direct legacy of the dop system?

Why am I interested in this story? Lots of reasons, because it has lots of hooks for me. As a blogger, I see a company using bloggers to market its product--a product no one really needs but some enjoy--and I wonder if they know how it got to them. Are they being exploited? Do they know? Do they care? As a PR blogger, I see an opportunity for vineyards and wine companies to actually come together as competitors to do something larger than their profit margin or next blog promotion, to help people who ARE being exploited. As a woman, as a mother, and as someone keenly aware of the legacy of slavery in this country and its toxic generational impact, I give a shit.

Stormhoek isn't going out of business because a few bloggers want to know about the practices in its associated vineyards, about its CSR programs, about the laborers who give Hugh a product to glue his cartoons on. But it would do well to address the questions

Mean Kids Disclaimer 230: I am not trying to poke holes in Hugh's project for poking's sake. I am really trying to find out what the current situation and practices are, and -- given the OPPORTUNITY TO DO SOMETHING POSITIVE (all bloggers like Positivity and Higher Purposes, right?), plus the wealth of EXPERTISE in and around the blogosphere ((which incidentally IS Stormhoek's marketing engine)) -- discuss what can and should be done.

For example, do Stormhoek vineyards have a Woman on Farms Committee on site, like Lanzerac, Kaapzicht, Fine Farms, Uitkyk, Blyhoek, Elsenburg, De Clapmuts, Spier, Groenland & Labonheur do? Do they have any representatives on the WOF's District Forum?

I'll stop now. But feel free to continue the conversation. Markets are, you know.