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. 

Activities

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.