Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Other Black Gold.

I just finished watching a documentary called Black Gold. I downloaded it many months ago and have watched it in five minute bursts ever since then. Well, since watching it, I can say that everyone who drinks coffee should watch it. If you don't drink coffee, well, there's a pretty important political message in there, but it takes an hour to get to it. It's easier if I just tell you.


Africa, basically, doesn't need aid. It never did. It needs some help getting on its feet and to be given its fair share of the world trade industry. After that, aid will become unnecessary. Africa will have the fish it needs because it learned how to fish.

If you DO drink coffee, you should watch it to give you a sobering look at as what you drink every, freaking morning starts out. I feel pretty good because as soon as Fair Trade coffees became available in my area, I started buying them. I felt that paying a bit more for quality coffee seemed like the right idea.

Not just for a humanitarian reason, either. It seemed like a good idea for selfish reasons. I knew coffee growers earn very little, so paying them more is smart. If they get paid more, that means they start actually caring about what they produce. They have pride and a vested interest. That means they are more likely to invest greater amounts of work and skill into their part of the chain. If I care enough to pay them a lot, they will care enough to make sure I enjoy what they sell me. I want the best possible product, and that means paying for it.

I think it's a good message, not necessarily a good documentary, but a good message that you can make a difference, without changing your life at all, by merely buying fairly traded coffees. That's easy. Even major grocery chains are beginning to offer Fair Trade coffees.

The movie was recently screened in the UK and the BBC ran a story about it. As is usually the case with evil corporations, they responded to the BBC but declined an interview in the movie. In one sense, I can understand this. They were afraid of words being twisted. And for a documentary with a bias, that's a legitimate fear. Still, they had some serious explaining to do, and they ran away in favor of feeding a prepared, PR line to a reporter.

The representative from Kraft Foods said the "main problems were that farmers did not always get the full market price and that the market price for coffee had been "volatile in recent years", dropping down to 45 cents for 1lb in 2001." He followed by saying that "We buy to the market price and we have to do that because we are a business that operates in the market."

That the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Not only is the market controlled by companies like Kraft, Kraft is easily large enough to sidestep the market if they so chose. They continue in the market because it's beneficial to them and gives them the very excuse they just used, "We're only a business and we're not directly connected to them."

I'm not some humanist wonk who thinks we should be paying them $5 per pound, but paying them what they get paid isn't a humanitarian issue, it's bad business. It's bad for the growers, and most importantly, it's bad for me.

Official Black Gold Website

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