30 June 2010 | Nick Martindale
Agricultural workers in South Africa are likely to be among the first to benefit from a training package backed by some of the world’s leading retailers.
UK companies Marks & Spencer (M&S), the Co-operative and Tesco have signed up to the scheme run by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), which will train local supervisers and managers in how to identify and prevent discrimination and sexual harassment. The scheme is being developed following a grant by UK charity Comic Relief.
Julia Hawkins from ETI said: “South Africa is a very important sourcing location for many of our members for wine, grapes, fresh produce and flowers.
“There are a million agricultural workers in South Africa and it’s very gradually transforming but needs help along the way. This training is as much about transforming people’s behaviours and attitudes as much as anything else.”
The Ethical Tea Partnership has already conducted training with workers on a plantation in East Africa, while fresh produce supplier Flamingo Holdings is about to start a programme in Kenya for 2,000 supervisers.
Retailers and other large organisations in southern Africa are also expected to back the programme and make training available to their suppliers before it gets under way in June 2011.
Louise Nicholls, head of responsible sourcing at M&S, said: “Supervisers have a significant role to play in achieving and maintaining good labour standards in the supply chain.
“M&S and our suppliers trialled the training in the UK and Kenya in a range of sectors and found it to be effective and motivational for both management and supervisers. We are excited about the Comic Relief grant and will support the rollout with our South African supply base.”
The training has already been piloted with suppliers in the UK, including Cambridgeshire-based fresh produce supplier G's.
Beverly Dixon, HR and health and safety director, said: “If workers come back in future years we see a significant increase in productivity rates, particularly at the start of the season, and consequently profit.
“Line managers who attended the course are also much more confident about being able to manage the team and need less input from more experienced managers. If they do come into a difficult situation they’re equipped to address it.”
Many agricultural workers in South Africa are seasonal, meaning suppliers and customers in other industries could also benefit from the training.
“When suppliers are more productive and managing their workplaces better it makes for a more efficient supply chain,” Hawkins from ETI added.