The Film

Tadesse Meskela, in sunglasses, a beige jacket and a white cap, stands outside next to a group of men and boys

Our hope is one day the consumer will understand what he is drinking and will ask these people who are not having fair trade coffees to pay us a fair price. This is our hope. 
—Tadesse Meskela, Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union

Multinational coffee companies rule shopping malls and supermarkets and dominate the $80-billion-plus coffee industry. But while Americans continue to pay for luxury lattes and cappuccinos, the prices paid to coffee farmers remain so low that many have been forced to abandon their fields. BLACK GOLD tells the complex story behind an attempt to make globalization work for the producers of the second most valuable traded commodity for developing countries in the world.

Nowhere is the disparity of the coffee industry more evident than in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. Tadesse Meskela manages the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union, representing over 74,000 coffee farmers. The union buys coffee from 101 individual co-operatives spread across southern Ethiopia. BLACK GOLD follows Meskela on his mission to save struggling coffee farmers from bankruptcy. As his union’s farmers strive to harvest some of the highest quality coffee beans on the international market, Meskela travels the world to find buyers willing to pay a fair price—a better price than the one set by the international commodities exchange.

 The consumers can bring a change if awareness is given to consumers to ask for more fair trade products.
—Tadesse Meskela

Against the backdrop of Meskela's journey to London and Seattle, the film reveals the enormous power of the multinational players that dominate the world's coffee trade. Since the International Coffee Agreement—which regulated the supply of coffee on the world market—collapsed in 1989, the price paid to coffee farmers has fallen to a 30-year low. But in the same time period, retail sales from coffee have increased from $30 billion to $80 billion a year. Today, four multinational corporations dominate the global coffee market: Kraft, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble and Sara Lee.

BLACK GOLD exposes how New York City commodity traders, the international coffee exchanges and the double dealings of trade ministers at the World Trade Organization all challenge Meskela in his quest for a long-term solution to pay coffee farmers a living wage.

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Modified 7/17/09

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