The price of one of those venti frou-frou caramel abortion lattes you can get at the neighborhood beanery equals about 10 days worth of wages for an Ethiopian toiling in the Addis Ababa coffee trade. In our junkie's pursuit to ride the brown serpent, the 2-billion-cups-a-day coffee habit of the global community is borne on the backs of farmers and packagers in developing countries.

"Black Gold: Coffee and the Bitter Taste of Free Trade," a documentary by UK filmmaking brothers Marc and Nick Francis, takes a critical yet nuanced look at the global economy through the prism of international coffee markets. The film follows the quixotic efforts Tadesse Meskela, an Ethiopian organizer struggling to unite coffee laborers into fair trade co-ops in the face of all-consuming multi national corporations.

"Black Gold" will be screening as part of the latest Films for Action slate at Liberty Hall and is being sponsored by Two Hands Worldshop, a Lawrence-based peddler of fair trade goods online. Brady Swenson, co-founder of Two Hands Worldshop, joined us to talk about "Black Gold" and whether or not we're going to burn in a lake of fire for drinking Frappuccinos. Extrapolating from the film and bringing it closer to home, I went to a local coffee shop today and bought a coffee-how many people did my caffeine addiction f*ck over across the globe?

Swenson: It depends on where you went. Fortunately in Lawrence we have a lot of conscientious coffee shops that sell fair trade coffee. But let's say you went to Starbucks-Starbucks has a very small percentage of fair trade coffee, to kind of throw a bone to this movement and say, "Alright, you be quiet now." The normal process starts with the coffee producers-growers, people picking the bean and people selling the beans to roasters-those people get very little money. We're talking a dollar a pound or less. Then it goes through several middlemen-purchasers, roasters, people who prepare the coffee-then it gets to the large companies like Folgers, who then market it and send it out at $6 to $8 a pound. The thing is, the coffee producers make up 70% to 80% of the people in the coffee industry worldwide. You're f*cking over a lot of people. We're talking about millions of people who try to survive by growing coffee.

Past Event

Film: "Black Gold"

  • Monday, May 19, 2008, 7 p.m.
  • Liberty Hall Cinema, 644 Massachussets Street, Lawrence
  • All ages / $3


Isn't that just the invisible hand of the free market doing its job? Even it that job of the invisible hand is to flip off Africa?

The thing about the "invisible hand" is that it's much larger than the millions of visible hands that pick these beans for us. It's so much more powerful and the international economy is rigged towards these powerful entities, whether it be the U.S. government or global corporations. They own all of the systems that govern the international economy. The World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund are essentially governed by large corporations and powerful governments.

Are you implying the free market isn't actually free and unregulated? How dare you! Those multi national conglomerates are struggling right now-there's only three or four of them left!

I'm more than implying it-the free market isn't free and it isn't unregulated.

Let's say I do go to Starbucks and buy a bag with one of those little fair trade stickers on it-will that prevent me from going to hell?

I don't know, you'll have to ask God about that when you get to the pearly gates. What it will do is help people live in not quite the deepest depths of poverty. It's not a cure-all, and fair trade is not something that will fix the world, but it's helping some people and that's the best we can do-make some baby steps towards injecting some justice into our global trade system.

Explain the concept of fair trade without your heart bleeding all over me.

The global economy, the way it's structured, is very undemocratic. The goal of fair trade is to inject some democracy into it. There are six or seven criteria that have to be met, all of which are at, but the idea is to pay these people more money and give them a say in what to do with that money. Fair trade stipulates that these producers be organized as cooperatives so that each worker has a vote in how this money is spent. The last cool bit is that there's money sent to a community development fund, so that these people can improve infrastructure so they can do better business, building schools and health centers. "Black Gold" goes into a lot of the great community developments that have been done with fair trade money.

What is Two Hands Worldshop?

We sell not only fair trade coffee, but have expanded to produce, crafts and goods from all over the world. We've got all five continents that are inhabited by people. We import directly from these cooperatives that are organized by the same principles as these coffee cooperatives that are in the film. We're based in our basement. We're trying to save up enough money to launch a business downtown at some point in the future.

Wow, you're practicing compassionate capitalism-you just made Alan Greenspan roll over in his grave and he's not even dead yet.

I hope so. There are a lot of economists who are coming over to our side, saying that trade is a fundamental human interaction and what we need to do to improve global justice is to find ways to inject justice into our trade systems. Instead of relying on governments to enforce those standards, we need to do it in the economy, because the economy is the global standard for interaction.

Is it possible that the economy could be used to elevate humanity, rather than just crushing brown people?

It would be beautiful for that to happen. There's a critical mass that's far above the consumption level for fair trade at this time. A lot of our problems in this society come from over-consumption. We consume a lot of crap we don't need and part of the fair trade model is that if you want to buy beautiful products for gifts or to decorate your home, that's fine-but we encourage you not to over-consume. It's hard to find the life where you can stay in business with these kinds of ideas. It's possible, though, and it's being done. »


coreyo 13 years, 8 months ago

"Fair" Trade products are not the answer. The only thing that will help is moving towards nations all over the world which are democratic republics based on individual rights.

Brady Swenson 13 years, 8 months ago

Hey coreyo,Thanks for you thoughts but no one is claiming that Fair Trade is the one and only answer. Fair Trade is an immediate and temporary solution to a big problem, a step in the right direction if you will. Democratic republics that provide and enforce labor rights laws for their citizens are a great way to help make trade more fair and prevent big corporations from taking advantage of workers.Unfortunately many many nations do not have on the books or enforce labor rights laws that we consider basic and fundamental. Big corporations take advantage of this fact and exploit workers to extremes. Yes, it is true that many of these nations are intentionally keeping labor rights laws off the books to attract business and jobs but these governments most often do not represent the people, the workers, who are being exploited and are benefiting directly or indirectly from big corporations in return for keeping labor rights laws off the books.In the meantime the only way we as a people can help bring justice and labor rights to the global economy is by making individual consumption choices that are more conscientious of the effect our dollars have on people around the world and the kinds of treatment of people our dollars can reinforce. Choosing to decrease your consumption is the place to start. Then you should choose to buy locally and buy Fair Trade whenever you can. These efforts will start to help people being kept in the depths of poverty by the unfair ways our global economy works while we can also focus on a permanent solution. Thanks again for your comments,Brady SwensonTwo Hands Worldshop

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