Wool and mohair from South Africa

Wool and mohair from South Africa

Ethical Trade Norway is engaged in a due diligence project in the wool and mohair industries in South Africa. The project is initiated by textile members sourcing from South Africa, and is funded by NORAD.

Project goals

The project aim is to identify the risk of labour, environmental and animal welfare issues in the supply chains of member companies sourcing from South Africa. The project also aims to catalyse and effect improvements in the South African wool and mohair industry that benefits both workers and farmers, adding to the work on sustainability that is already being done in and by the sector.

Background and challenges

Wool production has a long history in South Africa and was very central to the economy of areas like the Eastern Cape in the early years after settlers arrived in the country and remains so today.

The Eastern Cape is the biggest producer of wool in South Africa, followed by the Free State and Western Cape. Wool is South Africa’s sixth largest agricultural export, and around 5 % of the world’s total production of wool originates from the country. South Africa is the biggest producer of mohair (52-54% of global production). Mohair farming, like wool farming, tends to be concentrated in the dry parts of South Africa and the Karoo is a big production area. Traditionally conditions for workers involved in agriculture in South-Africa have been challenging, with repeated cases of long hours, low wages, incidents of child labour in some industries, as well as remnant of the apartheid system which on some farms have contributed to very poor and almost feudal conditions for workers living on farms.

However, the picture emerging from the assessment study we undertook in 2019 indicates that the wool and mohair industry has come a long way in addressing issues relating to fair and ethical, sustainable and humane production. The industries have produced guidelines and started to investigate new technologies to facilitate the transition. The farmers themselves have also started to embrace the changes, though this is not always easy and involves some costs and considerable effort on their part at a time when many of the wool and mohair production areas are grappling with a severe drought and a host of other challenges, not least of which relate to market fluctuations and an uncertain socio-political environment with policy and regulation uncertainty.

The key findings of the study includes:

  • South African labour law offers good protection of workers, and there is a fairly vigorous labour inspection process at commercial farms
  • In general positive employer-employee relationships and compliance with labour law.
  • Unions are active at processors and amongst shearers, but not on farms.
  • Many workers are not paid living wages – fluctuating prices play a big role.
  • Increased use of casual workers and “short time” both on farms and at processors.
  • Generally sustainable veld management, but drought and predator losses have dramatic effects.
  • Emerging farmers faces additional challenges related to lack of ownership of land.

Download the report here. 


We are currently rolling out activities based on the report recommendation. These include:

  • Information workshops on sustainability for farmers
  • Capacity building and on-farm assistance to emerging farmers
  • Skills training farm-workers of emerging farmers
  • Development of training for factory workers

Project participation

Cathrine Hammel, Helly Hansen, The New Zealand Merino Company, Pierre Robert Group, Stormberg, Varner, Voice Norge.

Cracking the Nut – a deep dive into the cashew nut industry

Preliminary reports indicated risks of serious labour abuses in the cashew nut industry: Use of prison labour, child workers, unsafe working conditions and lack of contracts to name a few.
Is this really the situation? And if yes, what can we do about it?

Through investigations on the ground, we did find many challenges in the industry, though for some issues the situation was better than expected. Based on the findings we are setting up an action plan to be implemented in collaboration with local partners.

A journey to Vietnam

The work started in 2017 when Norwegian food retailers asked the Ethical Trade Norway to embark on a journey of human rights due diligence in the cashew nut supply chain. It surprised me that they wanted us to focus on a product seemingly so marginal. Yet, a closer look revealed that cashew nuts are a high end product. The volumes in terms of value are substantial.

But where do the cashew nuts come from? Increasingly more of the cashew nuts are grown in African countries such as the Ivory Coast and Ghana, where they protect the soil from turning into deserts. But the African countries lack capacity to process the cashew nuts and remove its shells. So they ship most of them all the way to Vietnam that, with its huge processing capacity, has become the world’s leading exporter of cashew kernels. Vietnam also grows part of the cashews that they process.

Visiting farms

The next step was to map out the conditions at cashew processors and farms. With the help of ETI we found a highly qualified Vietnamese consultant with experience from similar projects. Her experience in dealing with local processors was essential to the success of the project. Access was tricky as the industry protects its reputation, and Government control also seems to make processors cautious. Though small-scale, the study included different kinds of processors – exporters and sub-contractors; state-owned and private; small family-owned, medium-sized and large – as well as cashew farms. The report showed us the risks across the industry.

Were these risks as we anticipated? I found the situation to be better than feared, but there is still a lot to be done. These days the use of prison labour, specifically drug detainees in rehabilitation centres that are forced to work in cashew factories, has fortunately become a marginal phenomenon. However, farmers lack knowledge about child labour requirements, and often children in the family work on the farms. We also found that farmers have poor knowledge and handling of pesticides. The ground water in certain farming areas was polluted and non-potable.

No contracts

The sub-contractors, shelling the cashew nuts, had little knowledge of labour legislation and most workers were employed without work contracts. There were also many health and safety issues. The study showed us that conditions were markedly better at the exporters, though more often than not, the management also acted as trade union representatives. Not surprisingly, these trade unions were not used by the workers to voice grievances.

So how to proceed? Recently we invited suppliers and industry stakeholders to a workshop in Ho Chi Minh City to present our findings and recommendations, and discuss the way forward. We were happy that the Vietnam Cashew Association (VINACAS) co-hosted the event with us, and likewise that Grete Løchen, the Norwegian Ambassador to Vietnam, gave the welcome address. This seems to have been a good starting point for local collaboration and for launching activities aimed at improvements.

Into action…

Now, our next steps are to make a work plan addressing the issues, collaborating with the local industry and stakeholders, and start putting prioritised activities into action. In principle this seems simple, but surely we will have many challenges along the way. But with persistence, we believe that we can have a real impact.

Finally, we would like to invite companies and suppliers, dealing with cashew nuts and wanting to contribute to improved conditions, to get in touch with us.

Bærekraft 17 – samarbeid om bærekraftige anskaffelser

Samarbeid om bærekraftige anskaffelser

Bærekraft 17 er et nytt og spennende pilotprosjekt i regi av Etisk handel Norge og medlemmer i offentlig sektor. Ikke-medlemmer kan delta. Bærekraft 17 skal gi harmoniserte og effektive anskaffelsespraksiser av høy kvalitet, som fremmer respekt for grunnleggende arbeidstaker- og menneskerettigheter i risikoanskaffelser.

Potensialet i SoK er stort. Trolig enormt. Smart organisering, høy faglig kvalitet og deling av informasjon vil gi en langt bedre utnyttelse av ressurser. SoK skal bidra vesentlig til harmonisering av krav, verktøy og prosesser. Det betyr ikke bare forenkling, det vil også gi forutsigbarhet for leverandører – og likebehandling. Kategoriteamene vil bli «eksperter» innen sine kategorier. Det vil gi høyere kvalitet i kontraktsoppfølgingen, som igjen øker sannsynligheten for reell effekt på sårbare arbeidere i leverandørkjeden.

SoK er organisert i kategoriteam, som har ansvar for hvert sin kategori. Per i dag (oktober 2019) er det etablert team for «mat og drikke», «bygg», «medisinsk utstyr og forbruksmateriell» og «tekstil». En femte kategori er under etablering. Et team består av tre – fem oppdragsgivere, hvorav en er leder. Oversikt over kategoriteamene finner du her:

SoK har en styringsgruppe, som treffer overordne de beslutninger. Deltakerne i styringsgruppen ser du under. Etisk handel Norge er prosjektleder.

I en tidlig fase er SoK (foreløpig) avgrenset til å omhandle arbeidstaker- og menneskerettigheter i leverandørkjeden. Når andre tema som sosial dumping, anti-korrupsjon, miljø, osv. skal inntas, vil være en forløpende diskusjon i styringsgruppen og kategoriteamene.

Æres den som æres bør – SoK hadde ikke vært mulig uten våre fremragende medlemmer.