The wine industry is undergoing a tectonic shift as consumers choose ethically produced products and stores and manufacturers that are eco-friendly and have clear values that are applied to the way they run their businesses and treat their employees.
An important part of this movement is that consumers want to know that the people making the products are treated fairly and that their rights and well-being are looked after.
There are various ways to convey this message to consumers. One way Stellar Winery has chosen to ensure transparency and to convey their beliefs and principals, is by certifying their company and products through Fair for Life, an independent third-party certification body. Through this certification, Stellar Winery wants to promote fair trade in the wine industry; a trade that allows all workers to access a wider range of social and economic benefits. These principles are part of a broader context of sustainable development within a region that safeguards and supports the local social fabric, particularly in rural areas.
Transformation in the South African wine industry
The South African wine industry has had a complex history which dates back to when wine was first made in South Africa in the 18th century. Jump ahead a few centuries, and currently the wine produced in South Africa upholds an international standard and continues to adapt and improve.
In the last two decades, South African wine producers have found themselves under national and international pressure to act in a socially responsible way, especially with the growing interest in South African wine. The South African wine industry views transformation and the development of people as key imperatives to ensure a strong, sustainable future, and has put measurements in place to verify the fruits of this vision. Industry bodies have initiated strategies, structures and funding to facilitate enterprise development, effective learning, as well as social investment initiatives, which are reaping noticeable rewards.
Stellar and its community are good examples of empowering all stakeholders, employees or otherwise, to become active members in the wine economy.
Stellar Winery, paving the way to social responsibility
Stellar’s mission is to promote and encourage ethical and transparent wine production. In July 2011, they announced a complete move from Fairtrade certification to Fair For Life certification. The reasons for entering the fair trade system were, and still are, to build a sustainable business, to work and grow in harmony with the environment, to provide opportunities for workers to improve their lives and aspire to their highest potential and to exist peacefully with, and add value to, the surrounding communities.
Stellar Winery is a multi-estate, bringing a number of independently-owned farms under a fair trade umbrella, which means that a greater number of workers and several more communities in the Lower Olifants River Valley benefit from fair trade sales.
“Our certification is not only about treating the environment fairly, but employees as well,” says René de Lange, certification officer at Stellar Winery.
The Stellar Empowerment Trust (SET) is an employee benefit trust and the economic empowerment arm through which the beneficiaries own equity-linked units in the issued share capital of Stellar Winery. Workers from previously disadvantaged communities, in the winery and on the contributing farms, have a collective 26% shareholding in Stellar Winery and viable agricultural land through SET. SET is 100% owned and run by these workers through their trustees, who are guided by the trust deed and their mentors.
“After switching to FFL, there were standards put in place that protect the workers even more. They feel more comfortable to exercise their freedom of speech, and offered them peace of mind,” says Gert Loubser, Stellar Empowerment Trust (SET) Liaison Officer.
Stellar Foundation, Stellar Winery’s non-profit organisation, was established in 2012 as an outflow of Stellar Winery’s fair trade programme. Stellar Foundation is set up as an independent NPO to manage social and economic development projects on the farms and in the towns and villages near the winery.
The health and wellbeing of Stellar’s workers is paramount to aiding transformation. Stellar Winery has a full time registered nurse who, with her mobile clinic, visits all the farms and tends to workers and their families. Stellar Foundation has a variety of projects, funded by the premiums from Stellar Winery’s fairly traded wines, as well as other donors. These projects include setting up community gardens, feeding projects for at-risk children in the area, and supporting the Stellar Judo Club’s members, just to name a few.
“The aim of adhering to FFL standards, and previously to Fairtrade, is to set Stellar Winery apart from many other companies. We want the company to grow and achieve as much as possible, and we can only do that when we know that our staff is also well taken care of, both physically and mentally,” says Willem Rossouw, Managing Director of Stellar Winery.
Empowering the employees at Stellar Winery
Stellar Winery holds a lot of potential for employees, especially with their approach of empowering them to take on opportunities within the company. The farm workers are empowered through initiatives such as Stellar Empowerment Trust, Stellar Foundation and their new project Stellar Agri. Each of these projects seeks to empower the workers in different ways.
In partnership with Stellar Foundation and SET, Stellar Winery put in motion a new project called Stellar Agri (Pty) Ltd. This project is a farming arm of Stellar Winery and is a black owned company with 63,74% employee ownership through Stellar Empowerment Trust. Stellar Agri was created to combat the shortage of organic grapes caused by the high market demand. Stellar Winery supplies high quality organic fair trade wine to an already existing and growing international customer base.
“We are very excited about the new project. Stellar Agri will provide even more opportunities to the workers from previously disadvantaged backgrounds to better their future and this is the reason why we are so excited about this new project,” says Martin Theys, SET Chairman.
The vision is to establish a sustainable business which delivers a high quality product under ethical and organic production practices. In doing this, Stellar Winery will create work for more than 80 workers, by empowering them and positively influencing the lives of their families. They will be creating opportunities for personal growth and skills development.
“Except for the fact that this project benefits the employees with regards to their shares, it will also create more job opportunities. We are already providing jobs to a large number of people in Koekenaap,” says Martin.
In a sense, the workers of Stellar Multi-Estate are not only beneficiaries and land owners, they grow to become grape producers and winemakers in order to become more involved economically in the production of wine. One example is the winemaking course four of the cellar workers are currently attending. Theunissen Lukas, one of the Executive Directors at Stellar Winery, says through this course they are learning a lot more about the different winemaking processes.
“This course opens up a lot of doors in terms of the future of our careers in the winemaking industry and we are learning a lot about the ins and outs of the different processes. At Stellar Winery and through the Fair for Life certification, we receive opportunities like this to better our lives,” says Theunissen.
Sustainable good practices at Stellar Winery
Stellar is paving the way in their dealings with other partners in the wine industry by educating them about Fair for Life practices and getting them excited to participate in the movement of sustainable development and the empowerment of their farm workers and local communities.
Stellar Winery has built a reputation for doing business with integrity. While enjoying the wine from Stellar Winery you are ensured that the labourers’ rights are protected through the Fair For Life system.
Adriana Louw, Social Development Manager at Stellar Winery, echoes these sentiments. “With the strict guidelines of Fair for Life, the premium funds generated from wine sales can only be used for projects from which the members of Stellar Empowerment Trust all benefit. This means that buying fairly traded products contributes to the social upliftment of previously disadvantaged people.”
Stellar’s involvement with their stakeholders ensures that Stellar’s good practices are handed down to the next generation.
For more information
For more information about Stellar Winery and their promise to their consumers, as well as to find stockists that sell their wine, visit their website at www.stellarorganics.co.za. For more information about Stellar Foundation and their projects visit their website at www.stellarfoundation.co.za. You can also keep an eye out for more news and information about Stellar Winery and Stellar Foundation on their social media profiles: