Film: Black Gold

It’s fair trade fortnight! I hadn’t actually realised – communication on it has been quiet this year.

However, as part of the week, a film called Black Gold was on the telly.

We’re all into sustainability and fair trade anyway, we understand that the trade that we do greatly affects the lives of people in the third world, we see the bigger picture of how we in the UK are very rich and yet we exploit the poor people in the developing world, and we’re compelled by our faith and our conscience to do something about it. So we probably didn’t need to see this film.

However, it was a good documentary! Unlike things like “Super Size Me”, “Farenheit 9/11” and “Bowling for Columbine”, there is no star of the show. There is no man on a quest. The filmmakers show only their interviewees and the subjects merely speak for themselves. There is a central character – a man who runs a coffee co-operative. But even he is really just a subject of the film. I liked this. I didn’t feel someone was desperately trying to prove a point. There weren’y awkward questions; there were just truthful answers.

The film outlined well the difficulties of growing coffee, selling it for a good price and making a living as a coffee farmer. It showed that there are many middlemen in the selling process, who all take their cut of the money. It demonstrated that the price of coffee is mostly decided by rich businessmen in America and the UK.

And it showed how unfair the standard process of trade really is!

Here’s some of the figures that I recall. Ethiopian coffee beans sold for 2 Ethiopian Birr per kilo – at the time of making the film this was 57 US cents.

A kilo of beans makes 80 cups of coffee. This equates to 0.71 US cents per cup.

One of the farmers says that selling for 5 Birr instead of 2 would change his life dramatically. 5 Birr is 142.5 US cents per kilo or, given the 80-cups-per-kilo figure, 1.78 US cents per cup.

This means an extra 1.07 US cents, per cup, would dramatically change this guys life.

1 US cent!

Per cup!

And the middle men and Starbucks and Nestle and Tesco and probably even the Fairtrade coffee companies are making millions!

Now, I know that fair trade isn’t a long term solution to the problems of the developing world. But for 1 cent per cup of coffee we could transform lives, give people some healthcare, send kids to school.

So what we do? What can I do? I already buy fair trade so I’m already helping in some way. I did have the idea of having a pot by the kettle and putting a coin (of any denomination) in it each time I made a cup of coffee, and giving this money to a development agency. But I’m already paying the fair trade premium, so how much will this help.

Better is to get other people to buy fairtrade and push more of the market that way. Better to campaign for the multinational coffee buyers to set and pay a fair price. Better to make sure others know that such a small amount of money makes such a big difference!