The way forward: the importance of social sustainability

by | Jan 31, 2022 | Article, Business and Marketing, Wineland

The 2022 Vinpro Information Day placed the emphasis on the need to revive, recover and rebuild after the shocks of the past two years. Panellists Bruce Jack and Bridgitte Backman elaborate on the importance to get social sustainability right.

If it’s true that the wine industry is essential for South Africa to move forward as Nedbank senior economist Nicky Weimar believes, it’s essential the wine industry finds ways to move forward. Fortunately, the industry has what it takes, says Bridgitte Backman, vice president of communications and public policy and government affairs (PPGA) at PepsiCo, as captured in an article by the World Economic Forum: “The wine industry has an 8 000 year history of adaptation to change, and as such it offers a unique perspective into resilience and lessons that can be broadly applied across sectors and geographies.”

The industry now needs to apply those lessons to the bigger picture and focus on inclusive and sustainable growth. “The biggest challenge we face is how to come up with a coherent social compliance framework that includes social cohesion, inclusion and social justice,” says Bridgitte.

Changing perceptions

The South African wine industry has led the way addressing issues of social sustainability, and is doing more than most other industries and winemaking countries, says Bruce Jack of Bruce Jack Wines. But despite the industry’s progress and achievements, there’s still a perception that social transformation is lagging. “We should strengthen WIETA and build on our achievements to change perception from within the country, especially from government,” adds Bruce. “That’s even more important than changing the perception of consumers in England or Holland or Germany. There’s still a perception within South Africa that the wine industry is not good with labour practices. That’s just nonsense.”


The best way to counter perceptions, says Bridgitte, is to first acknowledge that they are true for the person having them. The second step is to not be too defensive, and the third is to understand where these perceptions are coming from. She suggest outlining the journey of improvement and highlighting great existing examples to build on. “The best way to dispel perceptions is to address them head-on by looking for concrete examples that demonstrate the opposite. Showcase best in class on the ground with examples of social compliance, and demonstrate how this will become a new industry standard and norm.”

“Sustainability includes social responsibility, and in an emerging economy that’s almost the most important. We have good labour resources and practices,” says Bruce. “We should be thinking creatively how to use that to our advantage.” But any solution needs to have a strong local flavour, he adds. That means the industry should be adopting a ‘race to resilience’ approach to climate change, rather than try to meet the demands of more developed countries. “You can’t look at the social environment from a first world perspective when you’re in a developing world. The first world already has safety nets. As an industry, our responsibility is to create jobs because that’s how we create a sustainable future for our industry and our children.”

Revitalising WIETA

Bruce suggests a campaign by industry media and organisations to highlight the wide range of upliftment and social justice projects in the Winelands. “WIETA has proven it has a workable model, but the word needs to get out, and the industry needs to make a collaborative effort at every level to reenergise it.”

The challenge with any local standard is the alignment to and acceptance by global standard bodies, says Bridgitte. “One way to counter this scepticism and possibility of non-adoption is to align to globally adopted standards such as the UN Global Compact, the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), and to show how other local frameworks reflect are underpinned by these. The Australian and New Zealand wine industry has done this for their industry, and FIVS have aligned their framework to the SDGs as well. The SDGs can become a passport, the common ‘language’ and a foundation to demonstrate that local standards are aligned to best practice.

A good way to get government’s attention is to make it look good. “South Africa is a signatory to the UN Global Compact and does a VNR (Voluntary National Review) of progress to the UN on the SDGs, so if the industry uses this framework it could become a case study to be reflected in the country report,” says Bridgitte.

“Another way, but more longer term and requires extensive government and stakeholder engagement plus philosophical alignment, would be for government to accept and endorse WIETA as a country ‘standard’ and approach. A sovereign endorsed framework has to be acknowledged by markets. This could be a long hard road to follow and will not be easy; it will also depend on industry appetite.”

Setting our sights

As a way forward, Bridgitte advocates urgent alignment to the SDGs, since they’re a globally understood and accepted framework. Some SDGs are within easy reach and the wine industry can quickly build success stories around them.

  • SDG 3: Good health and Wellbeing: “Our products used irresponsibly can be seen to do harm and we need to address this through active advocacy and harm reduction programmes e.g. Foetal Alcohol syndrome programme and initiative support)
  • SDG 5: Gender Equality: “Fostering gender equality through the value chain from ownership, to labour, to suppliers, to entrepreneurs and within the industry both wine and tourism.”
  • SDG 6: Clean water and consumption: “Communicate existing examples of best in class water stewardship, water replenishment.”
  • SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth: “This is the difficult one in terms of perception but must be reviewed and reported.”
  • SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production: “Basically use less stuff to make stuff. Adoption of best practice approaches in viticulture already exist within the industry as a starting point.”
  • SDG 17: Partnership for the goals: “The industry cannot go this alone and partners are critical to achieve the desired outcomes.”

Trade associations and industry bodies are key to any policy and regulatory process, says Bridgitte. “Vinpro provides a unified structure for government to engage with. Government in general prefers to engage with an industry structure that provides a ‘unified, consensus type of view’ rather than individual organisations one at a time.”

“An industry voice that unites and can demonstrate support to the intended outcomes of a policy instrument while demonstrating its effect (both positive and negative) and possible unintended consequences on industry is critical for policy engagement,” says Bridgitte. “Robust, continued government engagement is critical; do not just approach government when there is a crisis or a problem. Government determines the policy playing field and regulatory frameworks and can become a key partner to unlocking value for the industry.”

In turn, the industry can review and reflect how policy instruments can assist in building the industry for the country and provide the country with a competitive edge and assist economic recovery, she says.

“Apart from people, planet and profit, we should consider our purpose – why are we doing what we’re doing – and make these elements part of our DNA,” says Bridgitte. “Once the industry is aligned on its purpose – the why – nothing can stop it growing from strength to strength.”

WATCH: Nedbank Vinpro Information Day 2022


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