The Observer today features a weighty article on the filmmakers of Black Gold, some of the larger players in the coffee trade, and the challenges facing consumers who seek absolution in their coffee cup.

“There are few products of capitalism more pertinent than coffee, the world’s most popular drink, with more than two billion cups drunk every day. And there are few products more economically complex. The final price of a cup of coffee in the West will have absorbed the costs of insurance, taxes, transport, processing, packaging, marketing, storage and much more. But of the £2 charged for a cappuccino in a British coffee shop, an average farmer gets less than 2p.

Coffee is one of the least transparent industries in the world,’ said Nick. ‘We’re supposed to be marking 200 years since the abolition of slavery. The coffee industry is not slavery, but when people are being paid half a dollar a day it is not far off. The companies argue that it’s better than nothing, and that’s a problem. By which standard is an equitable wage being judged? The companies who supply us with coffee wouldn’t treat their own employees the same way.”

Given a consumer’s fervent desire to do the right thing, is it possible — between million-dollar marketing campaigns, and confusing and ambiguous certification labels — to find an ethical cup of coffee? Filmmaker Nick Francis:

“The question for consumers is whether we can find a coffee that is less exploitative than the others. Maybe that is all we can say for now.”

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