South Africa's socioeconomic problems are numerous, so why attack one of the industries that is helping the country to its feet?

The cynic in me feels that Human Rights Watch is playing the publicity game by singling out the South African wine industry for criticism on worker rights. Wine is emotive, it resonates well with the charity-minded middle classes in the UK, plus it is August. Therefore, widespread media coverage is nailed-on.

I have a complicated relationship with non-governmental organisations of this type. Human Rights Watch does important work, as do others like Amnesty International, of which I am a card-carrying member. But, I find these specific reports somewhat troublesome. 

Should abuse of basic human rights be reported and tackled? Of course it should. Having said that, I totally understand why Wines of South Africa (WoSA) is foaming at the mouth over this latest study. 

Firstly, the press release sent out to all and sundry today makes little attempt to quantify the problem in the wine industry specifically. Knowing the sector, I find it very hard to believe that the kinds of abuse described are as endemic as the charity suggests. 

Then, there are the usual sweeping statements with which no right-thinking person could possibly disagree. "The wealth and well-being these workers produce shouldn’t be rooted in human misery,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Are we to believe that WoSA, meanwhile, is joyfully gurgling on the fruits of human suffering?

There is no mention in the media release, and relatively scant mention in the full study, of Fairtrade certification for South African wine, or the country's nine-year-old Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA).

Let's be fair, though. In its summary, Human Rights Watch is probably on the money on a basic level. Yes, there is more to do in South Africa on workers rights, including on all kinds of farms. No doubt that the charity would argue that, by publicising these interviews, it is putting the problem front-of-mind.

The United Nations Development Programme knows the issue only too well. In its latest report, published this year, it said: "Despite significant transformation since 1994, South Africa still faces major socio-economic challenges." Its figures suggest that unemployment is "persistently high", at around 29% of the population, with around a third of workers living on less than US$2 per day.

It doesn't make pleasant reading. But, I take exception to the scapegoating of South Africa's wine industry amid the country's myriad socioeconomic difficulties.