Student counseling and the role of HR

Sun Orange Farms

Product focus: Citrus fruits
Location: South Africa
Type: Hired labour – 35 workers
Fairtrade certified since: 2006
Contact: Constance Mari –


Illiteracy was a major problem among the Sun Orange Farms’ workforce. Signing of employment contracts, training attendance, and even withdrawing cash via ATMs – simple tasks proved to be a major hurdle for many workers. Management therefore decided to start an adult education programme.


When Sun Orange Farms first launched the idea, however, most workers were not willing to attend class, citing they were way past their learning years. The management decided to introduce counseling sessions to help workers understand the importance of education. These sessions were run on individual basis by the Human Resource Manager. After successfully winning the confidence of most potential students, the classes kicked off in 2005. Even today, HR is still following the project closely, counseling students who fail to attend regularly.

Classes follow a strict curriculum, covering six categories including technical and business skills training; a literacy course; health & safety training, including AIDS awareness; and a course covering employee-specific issues like labour law, workers’ rights and human rights.


Sun Orange Farms identified a local partner to help run the adult classes. Media Works is an adult education and training provider which has assisted management in measuring the result of the programme. Media Works sends assessment and progress reports of the project on regular basis.

Students do not have to pay any fees. Sun Orange Farms has used the Fairtrade Premium fee to cover the cost of the facilitators. The general expenses include the following:

Construction of class rooms 10,350 USD
Furniture for class rooms 1,380 USD
Payment of the facilitator (yearly) 3,680 USD

The management is now trying to make the project self-sufficient by producing and selling work books and stationery to the students.


The workers are now able to handle their personal finances. They understand their employment conditions and contract, their rights and know how to start a grievance procedure. Overall, the programme has greatly improved the employee/employer relationship. An additional benefit has been the increase of participation in committees and meetings, demonstrating that workers feel more confident to speak up.