From grape to glas

REPORT | 21 September 2015


Systembolaget’s efforts for a more sustainable supply chain have improved but there is still considerable room for increased ambition, according to a follow-up report produced by Swedwatch.

The employees at the base of the supply chain in popular wine countries such as Chile, South Africa and Argentina do back-breaking work for what is barely a living wage, and have difficulty organising themselves into unions. These were some of the problems brought to light in the Swedwatch report entitled “Wine’s route from grape to glass”, published in 2013.

Despite an ambitious effort made to ensure supplier accountability, the report pointed to a number of shortcomings in the measures taken by the state-run Systembolaget to bring about a sustainable supply chain.

Having conducted interviews with Systembolaget, Swedish wine importers and a minor field study in Argentina, Swedwatch is able, two years on, to report certain areas of improvement. One positive outcome is that Systembolaget’s audits have progressed from inspecting the big sellers to also include the wine producers and sub-suppliers as well – those of which often face the greatest risks and where the most serious shortcomings are often hidden. These audits are to be carried out in coordination with other buyers and on a more regular basis. This is a step in the right direction.

Another positive outcome is that the joint efforts of Systembolaget and the other Nordic monopolies to influence structural issues by conducting dialogue with local decision-makers have produced results. These have included changes of a law in Chile prohibiting the right to join or form trade unions. However, Swedwatch recommends adopting a more ambitious approach and conducting a dialogue that includes greater worker representation.

A further recommendation is that Systembolaget ought to establish clear goals for the environment and social aspects of the supply chain. To be able to work towards these goals, the company needs to be more adept at measuring and reporting on the performance of producers and suppliers. This should in turn give impetus to the issues relating to sustainability – both internally and externally.

Swedwatch’s follow-up also indicates that the winemakers show greater awareness of sustainability issues, but big differences remain between them, as well as between the Swedish importers. To give one example, Systembolaget’s biggest importer of wine has only just initiated its work towards sustainability, while others have been devoting themselves to it for several years.

One question raised in the report is the need for Systembolaget to explore how winemakers and importers with a long-term and serious approach to sustainability can be rewarded. An active effort is being made today to introduce more ethical and organic certified products to the range, yet there are also winemakers who are serious in their approach and who provide good working conditions, but for various reasons are not certified. This is something Systembolaget has to consider.

Made in collaboration with: Solidarity Sweden-Latin America and The Africa Groups of Sweden