Studying conflict and believing in peace. Follow for my thoughts on ethical living, art, trips and other ramblings.


rock ‘n’ roll sur les quais de paris, c. 1950s
© paul almasy

A while ago I watched a documentary called Black Gold (2006) and have been meaning to write a post about how the film made me think about coffee production and the thoughtlessness of those of us in the West when it comes to purchasing coffee. I was particularly struck by the reaction of the Starbucks company to this documentary.

(source: Youtube)

The documentary follows the efforts of an Ethiopian Coffee Union manager, Tadesse, as he travels around the world trying to obtain a better price for his workers’ coffee beans.

In the documentary we see footage from the New York Board of Trade, a trading floor where the international benchmark of coffee is set each day based on supply and demand. Here the traders have no thought for how this price will affect coffee growers in Ethiopia. There were also interviews with Ethiopian coffee farmers who explained that they would like more money for their coffee in order to build a better school for their children.

The film’s impact
The film had a huge impact on its release. Tadesse’s coffee increased in price from $1.45/lb to a minimum of $2.30/lb, and his Union tripled the amount of money being paid back to 130,000 farmers. The run down school featured in the film was built through donations generated upon the film’s release, approximately $25,000.

The reaction of Starbucks
Starbucks declined to make an executive available for interviews for the film and, when the film premiered in London, Starbucks HQ sent a memo to employees stating that Black Gold was “incomplete and inaccurate”. Thankfully, the memo was leaked, which is how we know about it.

Starbucks and Ethiopian coffee farmers

Through conducting a bit of reading it seems that Starbucks has a history of manipulating and underpaying coffee farmers in developing countries. In 2007, after Black Gold was released, Starbucks tried to use its muscle to block an attempt by Ethiopia’s coffee farmers to copyright their most famous coffee bean types, which denied them potential earnings of £47 million a year. It turns out that whilst Starbucks have now increased their purchase of fair trade coffee, this was only after years of pressure from fair trade groups. Starbucks seem less concerned with the continued poverty brought about through buying non fair trade coffee and more concerned with their own profits. 

Other interesting facts about Starbucks and its ethics

  • Unethical: Ethical consumer named Starbucks the most unethical café chain in Britain due to its stance on workers’ rights and its political activities.
  • Guantanamo: There is a Starbucks in Guantanamo bay. This is vile. In fairness, I also learnt that there is a McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Subway and Wal-Mart in Guantanamo. 
  • Tax avoidance: Despite sales totalling three billion pounds in the UK, Starbucks paid no corporation tax since 2009, instead choosing to practice tax avoidance. Whilst it is now paying tax, let’s face it, they’re only doing this because the bastards got caught. 
  • Supports factory farming: Starbucks sells a number of factory farmed products including meats for its sandwiches.
  • Not organic: The company refuse to provide organic, non-GMO drinks and snacks, despite calls from the Organic Consumers Association.
  • Not fair trade: Only 8.4 percent of Starbucks’s coffee purchases were certified fair trade in 2013. Starbucks have created their own standard of ethically sourced coffee, using their own program; Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices. Unlike genuine fair trade standards, CAFÉ standards don’t specify either a minimum price or a standard for negotiating price that would guarantee a fair price for small farmers. 
  • Worker’s rights: Industrial Workers of the World have called for a boycott of Starbucks, stating that whilst sales and profits have increased, stores have been increasingly understaffed, workers are often paid less than $9 an hour and there are inadequate hours, with many workers only assigned 20-30 hours per week. 


There are plenty of ways to buy ethical coffee:

  • Buy from local coffee shops: Rather than supporting international chains, buy from local businesses. The best coffee shops in Birmingham (and I’m sure this must be true in every place) are local businesses. They’re also more likely to sell fair trade (I’d check first though). In fact, two of my favourite independent coffee shops in Birmingham practice direct trade, which by-passes middle men, buying directly from coffee growers.
  • Boycott Starbucks: They don’t deserve almost £3 for a latte when they are so against paying coffee farmers enough to live on. 
  • Buy fair trade coffee in supermarkets: Coop has a particularly good selection, but all supermarkets have fair trade options. 
Sunday’s vegetarian roast dinner, with purple kale!
The only good thing about working a Saturday is being able to pop over to the Lord of the Rings exhibition at the local art gallery during my lunch break. #forest #lotr #art
In a bid to explore the world I’ve booked onto a TEFL course, and, like Hermione (when in doubt), I’ve consulted the local library for books. One step closer to going on an adventure abroad!

A Valentines cards I made last year. Sorry i’ve been MIA, I’ve been working 6 day weeks and not had a chance to tumble. I’ll be back with a vengeance soon though! 
Six wonderful years with this guy. Not just my other half, but my better half.
Spent the afternoon at the beautiful Wightwick Manor
#Digbeth #Warehouse #art #gallery