Movies for Fair Trade Fortnight

 Fair Trade Fortnight runs from 25 February - 9 March. Barbara Kentish from Westminster Justice and Peace recommends the following films dealing with ethical themes, which could be shown to parish or youth groups. Film is a powerful way to get the message across.

The feature film, Blood Diamond has been around for a year or so, of course, and deals with the Sierra Leone civil war of 1999, mercifully long finished. Its cause, Western manipulation of the country's diamonds market, lingers on. With Leonardo DiCaprio as a white mercenary go-between, trying to feather his own nest while controlling the Sierra Leone fisherman who has found a large rare stone, we are assured of a dramatic and violent story. The fisherman, played by Solomon Vandy, disgusted at Western greed, is blackmailed, through capture of his child-soldier son, into recovering the diamond, and eventually, exposing the scandal of 'conflict diamonds' in the commodity halls of the City of London. In a film of over two hours, it's a long and complicated story, with too many extended violent war episodes for some parish audiences (it's 15-rated), but the metaphor of Solomon's impossible situation captures exactly the problem for poor producers. Why workers in Africa, the Caribbean or the Asian sub-continent should work to produce goods they have no use for (we are told that most Sierra Leonians had never seen a diamond before this war, is precisely because they have no choice, if they want to live and support their families. The only humour in this harrowing, though gripping saga, comes from an old man in a village devastated by soldiers (which side?): who tells Solomon, "It's just as well we don't have oil: we'd really have trouble then!"

The Great African Scandal, a 55 minute documentary about Ghana, was shown on Channel 4 last Autumn, with some funding from Christian Aid, and narrated by Robert Beckford, an academic and Christian radio and TV presenter. Beckford's style is very accessible, and he manages to ask all the right people the right questions. Ghana produces gold, cocoa and rice in large quantities, while remaining a poor country.
We know a little about the gold trade (funny how jewellery features often in the Fair Trade saga) from the CAFOD campaign, Unearth Justice, and especially its effect on farming communities and the land. Divine and Dubble chocolate are also known in UK Fair Trade circles, but alas, in Ghanaian cocoa plantations FT conditions are not widespread. Children in the Fair Trade sector go to school, while outside it they are simply exploited child labour. Beckford doesn't mince his words. Do you like your chocolate brought to you by exploited child labour? Less known is the fate of the local rice market. Imported, subsidised, American rice undercuts local grain, because the WTO does not allow Ghana to subsidise its own farmers, and improve its quality. An easily understood watch, which I know will appeal to the Africans in my congregation.

A more detailed, and very articulate attack on world trade procedures comes with Black Gold, (available from Amazon) a film about the Ethiopian coffee trade, and why coffee producers of the best brand of coffee in the world are either starving or starting to produce "chat", a plant with mildly narcotic leaves for chewing, which brings in more cash. Flipping backwards and forwards between scenes of our cappuccino coffee culture, and the poverty of coffee farming communities in the Ethiopian mountains, we are made uncomfortably aware that the most of the £2 we pay for a cup of coffee is not going to the farmer who produced it. At a West End preview I saw early last year, the directors, Marc and Nick Francis were anxious for us not to stop drinking coffee, or to boycott Starbucks (highlighted because of its huge coffee "footprint"), but to make the frontline staff aware of the low prices they pay the producers. So talk to the counter staff!

Fair Trade is never going to be an easy process, and it is easy to lose the plot when obstacles seem so remote, and the trading chain so long. Tedesse Meskale, the hero of Black Gold, and head of a large coffee cooperative, reckons that his Ethiopian Cooperative does better by cutting out several middlemen, even if he has to travel the world knocking on supermarket doors. Look out for Union Coffee in your supermarkets. It will have a Fair Trade logo.

In the inspiring documentary, A New Leaf, (26 minutes) obtainable from the cooperative, Justchange UK, the story begins not with the tea they now import, but with a land reclamation protest. The Adivasi hill tribes in the South India Nilgiri hills campaigned successfully to regain their tribal lands, and then decided to compete with the big land owners by starting tea plantations of their own. They traded direct with retailers within India, then sought markets in Europe.

Why do Fair Trade goods have to be so expensive? The Justchange delegation decided, when they came to Europe, that Fair Trade supporters should not have to pay extra for supporting them, and managed to link up with the Marsh Farm tenant cooperative in Luton, who now import direct from India, process and package the tea, and retail direct in the UK. Avoiding the supermarkets, and other middlemen, they manage to keep the prices competitive. Our local parish representative (all right, she is a trustee of Justchange UK!), supplies us all with excellent fairly traded, reasonably priced good quality tea, on demand. So A New Leaf shows how poor communities in India can link with poor communities here, to the benefit of both. Get your tea from Luton, and support a local economy!

Fair Trade Fortnight runs from 23 February - 9 March

For more information see:

first posted LONDON - 24 January 2008 - 430 words

Share this story