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Finnish state alcohol monopoly to promote supply chain worker’s rights in tandem with the trade unions

The Finnish state owned alcoholic beverages retail monopoly Alko has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Service Union United PAM and the global union IUF to promote respect for worker rights in the company's international supply chain.

This includes workers’ rights to form unions and negotiate their working conditions through collective bargaining. The focus is especially centred around the production of grapes.

In this Memorandum Alko, PAM and IUT agree to exchange information on working conditions in the alcoholic beverages supply chain and to meet four times a year.

“The agreement ensures that workers at wine farms have, through their union, a direct line to report poor working conditions to us so that the IUF and PAM can raise them directly where it matters”, says IUF General Secretary Sue Longley.

“International Memorandums are often criticised for lacking monitoring mechanisms. But here we have made sure that the points agreed go right down to the practical level”, says PAM President Annika Rönni-Sällinen.

PAM organises those working at Alko and it is a member of IUF, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations.

Alko is a major buyer in the international alcohol trade. It has a monopoly in Finland for the retail of alcohol beverages containing more than 5.5 per cent alcohol by volume. In 2019, it had a net sales of 1,144 million Euro, 361 outlets and 100 order pick-up points and 651 beverage suppliers.

Situation in South-Africa sparked the discussion

In 2017, IUF signed a similar Memorandum with the Swedish state alcoholic beverages retail monopoly Systembolaget and IUF-affiliated union Unionen.

The question concerning working conditions at wineries has stimulated quite a bit of debate in the Nordic countries in the past few years.

One of the things that sparked this discussion in particular was the documentary film Bitter Grapes (2016) by the Danish film-maker Tom Heinemann. The documentary investigated the South African wine industry. The Nordic alcohol monopolies were buyers of their products.

The situation of the workers was very bad. “Twenty two years after the Apartheid regime fell, farm workers in South Africa are still seen as a commodity rather than workers with constitutional rights”, is the summation in the film home pages.

The possibilities to organise union work were limited at the South African wineries, but it was achieved thanks to hard work. And in this respect responsible international buyers can play an important role.

In 2017, the prestigious Norwegian Arthur Svensson prize for Trade Union Rights was given to the South African trade union Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers CSAAWU “due to their constant struggle for the underpaid, overworked and discriminated workers of South African vineyards”, as the Prize motivations put it.

Heikki Jokinen