The South African wine industry has countered claims that its workers "face poverty wages" supplying supermarkets in the UK.

A report commissioned by anti-poverty charity War on Want, released today (13 February), warned of "worsening conditions for (South African) employees as UK retailers and wine brokers drive down suppliers' prices to boost their profits".

The report, entitled 'Sour Grapes', alleges that supermarkets and wine agents in the UK are forcing South African suppliers to cut production costs by "dominating markets and abusing their buyer power". This results in vineyard and fruit employees suffering from low pay and insecure jobs, the report adds.

War on Want said it wants UK consumers to write to business secretary Lord Mandelson, and urge him to enable overseas workers to seek redress if UK companies or their suppliers exploit them.

When contacted by just-drinks, however, a spokesperson for South Africa's wine trade association, Wines of South Africa, argued that the country's wine industry has "a heightened awareness" of the need for employees to be treated fairly. "The country has very strict labour laws," the spokesperson said.

"South Africa has more accredited Fairtrade wines than any other country and is the only wine-producing nation to have an independent ethical organisation, the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA). [This organisation] is committed to the promotion of ethical trade and improving the working conditions of employees in agriculture."

The spokesperson also said that South African importers into the UK, as well as the country's supermarkets, contribute "substantial amounts" to WIETA and other social responsibility projects in South Africa's wine regions, on an ongoing basis.

"Many supermarkets in the UK insist that their wine suppliers are WIETA-accredited, or audited by other independent social auditing bodies," the spokesperson concluded.