Human trafficking, bonded and forced labour, are not unknown in South Africa and often involve labour migrating from other SADEC (Southern African Development Community) countries. In the agricultural sector, however, conditions and good legislation make it very difficult to exploit South African citizens. The victims of exploitation are often from neighbouring countries and include adults, children, and sexual abuse. This was the message from Carina Coetzee, a senior officer in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), at the Stronger Together Symposium 2021 that was recently held.
“It is, therefore, crucial that industry drive awareness of the problem. Seasonal and temporary workforces are the most vulnerable and the easiest to exploit.” According to Coetzee, it is important that employers in the agri sector are informed and make sure that all personal documentation is in order before employing people from neighbouring countries. The Department of Employment and Labour in conjunction with SADEC roleplayers and the NPA have adopted action plans to address the issue of modern slavery.
The Sustainability Initiative of South Africa (SIZA) CEO, Retha Louw, said that as the focus on aspects related to forced and bonded labour increased globally and within South Africa over the past few years, more constructive reporting was required on practices. “Although the standard always included forced and bonded labour, taking the demand into account, the obvious next step was to adapt the SIZA audit checklist to include certain criteria and specifications to ensure that we can report on the key aspects as required by the different buyers. During this time Stronger Together provided a cost-free option due to the funding they received from the UK home office which created a huge opportunity for the South African agricultural industry to get ahead of this requirement and to implement it.”
Looking back on the past three years in terms of SIZA social audits, which measures and evaluates practices related to forced and bonded labour, there was a growth in the identification of non-compliance.
For the 2018-year (1 April 2018 – 31 March 2019), 128 (3.8%) findings were raised by third-party audit firms pertaining to Forced & Bonded Labour out of 3 340 total findings. These findings were raised within a total of 418 SIZA social audits.
For the 2019-year (1 April 2019 – 31 March 2020), 328 (5.4%) findings were raised by third-party audit firms pertaining to Forced & Bonded Labour out of 6 032 total findings. These findings were raised within a total of 660 SIZA social audits.
For the 2020-year (1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021), 357 (6.3%) findings were raised by third-party audit firms pertaining to Forced & Bonded Labour out of 5 683 total findings. These findings were raised within a total of 687 SIZA social audits.
According to Louw, there are several reasons related to this growth such as:
- SIZA ethical audits increased over the last couple of years and are nearly doubled the total amount than it was in 2016.
- Auditors are subject to training on S2G and calibrations and information due to the training of the past 3 years which makes auditors more capable to identify aspects related to forced and bonded labour in the workplace.
- Participants have a better understanding of what these practices entail and can actively engage in the reporting thereof.
- SIZA Audit checklist was changed to include more indicators.
On the positive side, Louw said, it is important to note that each audit gets completed – “meaning adequate corrective action has been implemented to combat and resolve the practices that relate to forced and bonded labour.”
The non-compliances from the last year (2020/21) involved the following code-requirements of the SIZA Social Standard:
- Inadequate awareness-raising within businesses pertaining to forced and bonded labour.
- Inadequate policy in place dedicated to the prevention of forced and bonded labour and protection of employees.
- Isolated cases where employees had to made payments associated with recruitment resulting in possible forced or bonded labour.
- Inadequate disciplinary measures in place not able to eliminate aspects of coercion forced and/or bonded labour.
Louw said in conclusion: “There is still work to be done in raising and creating adequate awareness on the seriousness and long-term effects of forced and bonded labour practices, but I do believe that we were very fortunate in South Africa to have this opportunity to implement this programme so soon in our country so that we can be ahead of market requirements as indicated.”