Sustainability is as much about looking after people as it is looking after the planet. Building a fair, inclusive culture in which companies take care of their staff is critical. At The Society, we have a duty of care to our people, including our suppliers, members, employees and the local community.
In the wine industry, there’s an added dynamic in the form of extra people required at harvest time for grape-picking. Wineries with integrity that care for their employees will always insist that pickers are looked after, paid properly, given protective clothing and enjoy good working conditions.
Symington Family Estates in Portugal’s Douro Valley has gone a step further and is lobbying for a change in regulations to the benefício, a quota system that governs production of Port and table wines. The company works with more than 1,100 growers and works hard to ensure that all receive a fair price for their crop. Symington also employs a farmer liaison manager who works with its growers to advise on best-practice growing, encouraging minimum intervention in the vineyard.
This sense of community is echoed over in Chile at Concha y Toro, where employees are offered a host of benefits such as health insurance, funding for sports or art projects, mental health support, financial and legal advice and an employee support programme that covers training and personal development. And for its temporary grape pickers, the company offers food, transport, performance bonuses and even monthly gift cards for shopping as incentives.
Looking after employees is not just about being seen to do the right thing. It’s about creating a culture where people are cared for and are given a sense of belonging.
South Africa was among the first wine regions to embrace this need for inclusivity and is now the world’s biggest producer of Fairtrade wine. Fairtrade accreditation is a sign that workers and farmers are paid fairly, and that producers are investing in their community in essential services such as healthcare and sanitation.
One such producer, Lubanzi, has partnered with The Pebbles Project, a not-for-profit organisation that provides healthcare and education to farming families. Lubanzi has committed to donating 50% of its annual net profits to Pebbles, with co-founder Walker Brown describing the gesture as ‘going back into the hands that made it’.
Charles Back, owner of fellow Cape producer Fairview, has embraced sustainability like few others. ‘Wine isn’t about the bottom line – there’s a social dimension, too’ he says, and he practises what he preaches, empowering the families that grow Fairview’s grapes, signing up to industry bodies that insist on fair-labour schemes, and not planting or removing vineyards where natural fynbos (native vegetation) exists.
The Society works with all of the above producers, and their ethos is our ethos. Looking after our people is one of our five sustainability pillars, and it’s a vital element to ensuring The Society is something everybody can be a part of.
For more information, view our sustainability section