Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Black Gold

I've just watched the movie documentary, Black Gold and read some of the posts on the official website - most of it a debate on whether or not Starbucks is a villain. The movie itself is excellent - good cinematography, interesting commentary, helpful statistics, compelling coverage of a relevant issue. Not surprisingly, though, it leaves me with lots of questions, not so much about what is said, but about what is left unsaid.

The movie follows Mr. Tadesse Meskela's efforts to improve the market position of the 105,000 Ethiopian coffee farmers who are members of the Oromia Ethiopian Coffee Farmer's Cooperative Union. The story is pretty straightforward: despite the increasing popularity of coffee and the amount of money spent globally on coffee and coffee products, coffee farmers in Ethiopia and other low income countries are laboring for next to nothing and generally receiving a price for their product which imprisons them in poverty and makes basic education for their kids a pipe dream.

So what about fair trade products: coffee, tea, chocolate, spices, flour, etc.? Does buying fair trade certified commodities actually make a difference? I'll be doing lots more thinking and researching on this question, but for now, the bottom line for me is this: whenever I can, I will. I know my consumer habits and yours are just a drop in the bucket but those drops can add up and if we each can influence those around us to go fair trade, the drops will become a trickle. The bigger issue really is what are we going to do with our wealth? Are we going to spend it on lavish lifestyles as we sip our $3.70 lattes and espressos, or are we going to find ways to invest it in effective poverty reduction?

Here's my challenge: get a copy of Black Gold and have some friends in to watch it with you - I'm pretty sure you'll have a good discussion when it's over!; do some research on the issues surrounding fair trade; then - adjust your patterns of consumption to reflect your understanding as it continues to evolve. The big multi-national corporations are after one thing only: profit. And they'll continue to exploit whoever they can to improve their profit margins and impress their shareholders. That's what they do. That's how the system works. But consumers have influence too. At the end of the day, where will your buck stop?