South African group Indigo Fruit Growers, which produces, packs and supplies Clemengold mandarins to the local and international market, is championing change in the industry by offering their fruit picking employees the world’s first Comic Contracts.
Comic Contracts is a branded product and an idea developed by Robert de Rooy, a South African lawyer based in Cape Town and long standing legal counsel for the Clemengold Group, and uses visualisation to improve employee understanding of contractual terms.
“The parties are represented by characters and illustrations are used to explain the terms of the contract," an Indigo Fruit Growers' statement read. "Challenging the taken-for-granted assumption that only text can capture the terms of a contract, a Comic Contract is a binding agreement using mainly pictures instead of words.”
De Rooy says the initiative is based on the fact that pictures are easier to understand and easier to remember: “The purpose of a Comic Contract is to empower the parties to understand each other, to understand what they expect from each other, and what they are committing to.”
According to the statement, Comic Contracts have been specially designed to address the needs of vulnerable employees, those who either cannot read well or have difficulties understanding the language in which the contract is written.
“Whilst the legal system requires that all employees have an employment contract, it assumes that everyone can read proficiently and understand the contractual terms presented to them. However, this is rarely the case in South Africa, especially in sectors employing low-skill workers such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing and domestic services. Employees are rarely in a position to understand – or question – the contracts that they are given to sign.”
De Rooy says the way in which most contracts are drafted and presented does not support a good relationship. “Most employees don’t read it, nor would they be able to understand it if they tried," he explained.
According to him, this situation is perpetuating a power imbalance between employers and employees. “Employees are bound to terms which they don’t understand, can't live up to, and cannot use to hold their employers accountable. In such circumstances, misunderstanding and conflict in the workplace should come as no surprise.”
“We are really excited about the transparency this contract brings to our employee relations,” says Indigo Fruit Growers.
Abs van Rooyen, CEO of Indigo's parent company ANB Investments, says the scheme creates a more equitable situation, which can only be the start of a more ‘honest’ relationship with our employees: “I believe that workers can only commit fully to the content of a contract if they understand what they are signing.”
Indigo recently initiated the implementation of the Comic Contracts. Firstly, the contract was presented to 50 fruit-pickers who had previously worked for Indigo. Following the successful induction of these 50 workers, the contract was presented the next day to a further 163 fruit-pickers. Faan Kruger, farm manager of Indigo Fruit Growers says the feedback was positive. “No picker asked for the old contract. Although everything was new and there were many questions, the process went much faster than with a traditional contract."
The Comic Contracts used by Clemengold Group were presented at the International Contract Simplification Conference in Switzerland recently, where it was received with 'great excitement'.
Following the presentation in Switzerland, Robert de Rooy has been invited to present the concept at The International Association for Contract and Commercial Management (IACCM) America’s conference in San Diego in October.