A better world is possible



From one day to the next international prices for sugar, coffee, or cotton skyrocket and plunge. Why does this happen? What is the practice of commercial dumping?  How does giant agribusinesses function? How does vast intensive farming affect the traditional family farm? How many jobs are being eliminated? We will discover that the coffee we enjoy after a good meal has been harvested by overworked and malnourished children in Kenya. The episode refers to fair trade, responsible consumption, fair pricing, our rights as consumers and the power we have to exercise social activism in order to prevent abuses and ever-increasing inequality.



Voice over:

Commercial trade and economics are manifestations of something inherent in human nature and of life in society. We make, produce and transform, and have been doing so since the beginning of time. The history of commerce sheds light on a substantial part of human history... providing special insight on our evolution as a species. Commerce is so tightly woven into the destiny of peoples that, through its development, as through a mirror, we can see the birth, rise and fall of civilizations.

Arcadi Oliveres – Economist, President of Justice and Peace (CEIM University, Valencia, Spain):

Don’t worry... it will only get worse. And what does this mean? Well, if we are not able to stop it - and that’s why we’re here, to stop it - the data tells us that things are getting worse every day.

Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo – Mayor of Marinaleda, Spain (SOC Andalucía):

That 10 million hectares of forest disappear every year, that deserts are growing some 6 million hectares a year, that 10 multinationals control not only the land, the water, and seeds, but also toxic residues, agro-chemistry, and the food-processing industry... or that one multinational... like Monsanto, controls... everyone here.

Arcadi Oliveres:

In the 80’s, the difference wasn’t 30 to 1, but 60 to 1. In the 90’s, the difference wasn’t 60 to 1, but 80 to 1. And presently, the data tells us that the difference is 95 to 1.

Carlos Taíbo – Professor and writer (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid):

What am I thinking of? Of speculation, of the concentration of capital, of dislocation, of the disappearance of regulatory standards...

Arcadi Oliveres:

In any case, the differences are great, and they are increasing every day. So, in the second part of this diagnosis, I will try to explain the reasons behind this change, why some are getting richer and richer, why others are getting poorer and poorer, and what mechanisms are behind enrichment and impoverishment.

Voice over:

If we go back in time, we must go as far back as the ancient times of Homer and Salomon to see the first important commercial relations. Those exchanges over the seas were a beacon of light for knowledge and the prosperity of that era. Aristotle said that the economy was the honest and prudent administration of goods... But a few eras later, this precept seems to have been turned on its head. The current trend of economic globalization, of international commerce and its devastating mechanism are wreaking havoc in poor countries, in the biosphere, and is threatening the survival of the planet... How have we arrived at this point? Why did this happen? Are we witnessing the extinction of an economic model? Of a way of life?

Arcadi Oliveres:

And it’s true. If we take into consideration the evolution of global trade, we will see that international commerce grows daily –it’s one of the great symbols of globalization - but also that the terms of this trade are more and more damaging to third world countries.

Silvia Ribeiro – Researcher, ETC International Group (World Social Forum, Caracas, Venezuela):

In terms of the concentration of business on a global scale, it’s one of the most... dramatic trends of the last decade. It’s true that it’s a logical mechanism of capitalism, as competition tends to lead to mergers, for companies to become bigger and bigger, but in the last decade, we’ve gone from a situation of corporate mergers – which in 1991 represented some 475 billion dollars of activity – and some ten years later, this activity represented... some 3.5 trillion dollars.

Arcadi Oliveres:

I was surprised, because about 3 years ago, the United Nations – which usually speaks, lets say, diplomatically – published a report in which their famous diplomacy was absent, because they accused 32 companies in the world of decimating the natural resources of the Congo, thanks to an agreement which was in vigour for 30 years, and made with the then president, who I’m sure you will remember was a corrupt man called Mobutu. 

Silvia Ribeiro:

The sale of seeds, compared to that of processed foods, drinks, and so forth, is much smaller. But why is so important? Because they are the keys... that open... that start the chain. Whoever has control of seeds will have control of the entire food chain. So... Monsanto is the company controlling seeds now; it’s the one with the highest percentage of control... together with others who aren’t exactly angelic.

Arcadi Oliveres:

And the company who was number one on the list of those companies which stripped the Congo of its wealth is called Bayer. It makes aspirin, and sometimes helps us with headaches.

Eduardo Baamonde – COGECA President (Spanish Trade Office, Hong Kong):

What we fear is that these big exporters, who are big multinationals and who have nothing in common with these less developed countries, are basing their strategy on receiving preferential treatment, and taking advantage of miserable work conditions and miserable salaries to manufacture in these countries, to flood our markets, and to lead our farmers to ruin.

Francisca Rodríguez – Vía Campesina (CIP meeting, Rome, Italy):

We could achieve and implement agrarian reform in order to stop the  transnational companies... and it wouldn’t be a problem because what are they doing now? In order to destroy the little land that’s left in the hands of small scale farmers, nowadays they are creating new production systems, new markets for their goods – of monoculture, mainly for exporting – and what they are doing is annihilating the land in order to produce food.

Voice over:

Travelling to Ejido, in Almeria, Spain, is also like travelling to another time... to a depressing futuristic landscape: a sea of plastic. It is obvious that the development model of the 1960’s has reached bottom and has seriously assaulted the environment.

Melchor Acién – farmer (El Ejido, Almería, Spain):

A young person that starts out in farming can’t make it. He’s got to buy a house, and from there buy a truck because he needs it for work, and from there build greenhouses... he can’t do it. Right now, he can’t do it. We started back then, one dreamed up the idea, the other moved ahead, and we made it that way. My money’s in these greenhouses. I’m paying them off. But the kind of money we used to make from this? Nope.

Voice over:

Sadly, many of the crops will be left to rot in the greenhouses, because the prices that middle-men offer the farmers often do not cover the cost of harvesting them.

Melchor Acién:

Red peppers at 3 euros. See that? Now that’s work. 3 euros over there, and here they pay 20 cents, ten cents, all the peppers you want...

Voice over:

The price paid to the farmer for a kilo of ripe red peppers is multiplied by 2 to 3 hundred by the time it reaches the consumer. The same happens with other crops. Coffee becomes the bitter fruit of underdevelopment for the producing farmers. This year, in the citrus groves of Valencia, thousands of tons of oranges have rotted on the trees. Who determines prices?.. How many jobs are destroyed?.. Who benefits from this enormous inequality?

Eduardo Baamonde:

Also, the system of creating prices that exists in the market today... in the European market and the international market, follows a pattern which is the opposite of what is logical. A company implements a strategy and sets a price in the market - in order to enter that market – without considering what it should pay the producer. That comes later. It sets its objective and from there backtracks, concentrating more and more pressure as we get close to the producer, but it doesn’t care, for this company what’s important is to be the first and the most competitive in the market.

Arcadi Oliveres:

Last year, a report was issued outlining the deterioration of the price structure of coffee, one of the more representative products of the third world, and it stated that if 10 years ago, from Columbia to Nicaragua, a tonne of coffee went for 3000 pesos or whatever currency, now a tonne sells for a thousand. Which means that Columbians, for a tonne of coffee, used to be able to buy three... sewing machines, for example, whereas now, for a tonne of coffee, they can only get one sewing machine, because they’re only being paid a third of what they used to be paid.

Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo:

We also think that the food industry should belong to those who work in it... that collectively owned and solidarity based food distribution channels should be created, the hard part isn’t producing but selling...

Arcadi Oliveres:

And there’s a lovely curve which describes how the income of Costa Rica and Columbia decreases, while the income of the corresponding middle men are increasing. This is described in great detail, and I won’t get into details here, but the main culprit behind this situation is called Nestlé. I’m telling you this so that you’ll know what to expect from giant companies like this.

Carlos Taíbo:

Nobody is the owner of wage labour, not in the North and not in the South. I think that if there’s one word to summarize contemporary economic relations, it’s that magic word “competitiveness”. Anybody with half a brain knows that the last 15 years have involved competitive gains, which for us has meant lower and lower salaries, longer and longer workweeks, back peddling in the field of social gains, job insecurity everywhere...

Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo:

We also think there should be a bank, a public bank to finance this agrarian reform, and everything that it involves - I won’t get into that here - and development, not only of agriculture, industry and the environment, but also of hospitals, schools, housing, and so on.

Carlos Taíbo:

Careful, this is a global project. The success of the competitiveness project derives from the fact that the sales pitch is based on the same principles everywhere. What are we hearing in the European Union? We are told we have to tighten our belts, if not, the United States, Japan and China are going to win the competitiveness battle, and that’s being said in the United States, too. You’ve got to tighten your belts, otherwise the European Union, Japan and China are going to win the competitiveness battle, and in Japan they’re saying that belt-tightening is in order, otherwise, the untied... the United States, the European Union and China will win the battle for competitiveness. In China, they’re not saying that, probably because it’s impossible to tighten belts any more than they already are, but the letter and the spirit of the message is most probably the same. And you have to admit that it’s an ingenious project.

Francisca Rodríguez:

You go alone, quietly, not trying to grab the best before the person next to you does. All the products that you can find in a supermarket go through many hands... and you don’t know where they come from. What you do know is how long it’s been frozen. So, when you arrive at home, you eat something without much of an appetite for it. And eating should be a pleasure. These days we don’t have the time to go to the villages, the universities. When we have the farmers’ markets, people come. And we are telling people, we are telling our colleagues: enough. Even if it’s just with baskets, let’s set up shop again with baskets, in the squares, on the roadsides. And people are grateful. They show their gratitude by buying from you. And the relationship is re-established. It shouldn’t be broken. Our communication has to remain oral.

Mario Ahumado – MAELA General Coordinator, Chile (CIP meeting, Rome, Italy):

Therefore we believe that there shouldn’t be price differences. We’ve had a lot of experiences in local markets which are fundamentally based in terms of who offers the product at the same price as the conventional price, and the prices established by the organizations of producers together with the consumers, are a reflection of the prices of... of the conventional products.

Voice over:

Since Phoenician times, politics and economics have been two sides of the same coin. Political economy was defined as a science by the Greeks. No war was ever started without an economic factor at its deepest roots. Are we really being protected by states?

Eduardo Baamonde:

The agricultural policy of the European Union, with all its faults, is a policy of social and territorial cohesion. And therefore we need a common agricultural policy for our agricultural model - and I insist, based on the family farm – to survive.

Arcadi Oliveres:

So, our industry was developed thanks to protectionism, and now we have an institution - that I mentioned a little while ago - which is called the World Trade Organisation, and which is preaching development based on the opposite, which is free trade. But with free trade, nobody has ever developed. Nobody!

Eduardo Baamonde:

So we are here to oppose, with all of our efforts, and especially with all of our arguments, this situation where the only beneficiaries are going to be the big multinational companies – which, I insist, are going to produce in the least developed countries, their agricultural production will flood our markets - which unfortunately are the only ones that can afford agricultural products - and these multinational companies will not contribute at all to the economic and social development of these developing countries.

Paul Nicholson – Vía Campesina International (Zurich airport):

We have consolidated... an area of alliances – the world is not for sale – we’ve consolidated a series of messages, it’s not only Vía Campesina which is calling for the WTO to stay out of agriculture, trade unions are asking for the WTO to stay out of education, to stay out of health, out of the seas, and other campaigns such as the WTO to stay out of natural resources...

Arcadi Oliveres:

So, the first world was developed on the basis of protectionism, and now that we are developed, we are imposing protectionism  - excuse me, free trade – on the third world, and we are preventing them from developing.

Paul Nicholson:

A lot has been done, and we’ve achieved a lot, but there are also signs that within the social movements, the citizen movements, we’ve forgotten the role of the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF.

Arcadi Oliveres:

How many members are there in the IMF? 170 member countries. How many are rich? 40. How many are poor? 130. One would expect that from an organisation which is mainly composed of poor countries, we wouldn’t be getting piddly 4% reductions of debt like I mentioned before, but some massive debt cancellation decisions. Why isn’t this happening? Why doesn’t the FMI take this decision? Simply because the IMF has a perverse decision making structure.

Carlos Taíbo:

I think that the essence of the debt problem is a very startling issue, which is that poor countries... are financing the economies of rich countries. And we should push this argument in its most literal form. This is no metaphor. In the end, the amount of resources that must be paid back are so much higher that what they originally received, that our countries are now enriching themselves, not from the daily exploitation of those who live in the third world, but from the loans given in the past to governments of many countries.

Arcadi Oliveres:

External debt is a disaster, because it obliges them, as we’ve said before, to send us many more resources than foreign aid can currently match. But the strange thing is that this debt, which they are paying back, we have been paid for it in large part up front, because thanks to someone like Mobutu, the money for the minerals from the Congo that we’ve sold, is now sitting in accounts in France. But then the Congo is in debt, and they are paying France for this debt. And you well know that the catalogue of crooked presidents produced in the third world is very thick.

Carlos Taíbo:

... a debt that we know from hindsight has mostly benefited the ruling elites of those countries in the South, and has not provided any benefits for the average citizens there. This places us in a scenario of such immoral magnitudes, that it’s hard not to sympathise with the most radical options, and as a logical consequence, we are extremely suspicious of the proposals put forth by the powerful of this world.

Voice over:

As an alternative to unfair and abusive commerce, the fair trade movement was born some 40 years ago. The concept is understood as a trade system based on dialogue, transparency and respect, and which seeks a more equitable form of international trade. It contributes to sustainable development and aims to ensure the rights of producers and workers, especially in the South.

Arcadi Oliveres:

Sometimes we stop in the shop, we buy some fair trade sponsored coffee, we ease our conscience, but if our conscience still produces discomfort, we buy a second... packet of fair trade coffee, and we are still bothered, then for Christmas, which is the time when we usually cleanse our conscience, we buy three packets of fair trade coffee, we participate in the campaigns of the NGOs and we leave our conscience completely clean, and we plunge into Christmas consumerism feeling good.

Francisca Rodríguez:

Fair trade as it is organised today... and even developed institutionally... is very selective about production, and it’s a very harsh selection process, and so it’s not only selective about production, but also about those people who can participate in production... and it ends up being an inclusive commerce, right?... but... but also based on... intermediaries.

Patricia Marco – Intermón Oxfam (Valencia, Spain):

We buy from producers from countries of the South, under fair trade conditions. And the rules of fair trade under which we operate include cooperatives where women have the same work conditions as men, where the environment is not damaged in the production process of the goods we carry, that they don’t involve child labour... they have democratic decision taking processes, and all the products we sell here meet these criteria.

Francisca Rodríguez:

The middle man involved is very close to us, a good friend of ours, or at least he speaks that way, but he follows the same old trade rules. So, that’s why we say this fair trade, which creates hopes and expectations, ends up being unfair trade.

Patricia Marco:

Very often we pre-finance them, that is we pay up front, so they don’t have to wait for us to sell their products but they get the money on delivery, and in exchange we often give them technical support, especially if they are very small cooperatives. That’s the case with many African cooperatives which... are often located in areas with little access to mainstream commerce, and from here they can get ideas for packaging design, while maintaining the culture and the appearance of the products they offer, but giving ideas to help them sell here.

Arcadi Oliveres:

But in any case it’s obvious that during the rest of the year you’re not going to step foot in the fair trade shop, therefore the conclusion is very clear: we buy from unfair trade, otherwise the rest wouldn’t be fair trade.

Voice over:

Attending a conference held by professor Arcadi Olivares is also a journey to the heart of our conscience. Listening to him opens windows of hope. We often confuse blind consumption with well-being... The famous sentence “I’m feeling down, I’m going shopping”... we should be capable of replacing it with “I’m feeling down, I’m going to be caring and fair”. We can all contribute to sustaining the planet through responsible consumption and social activism to avoid ever growing abuses and inequalities.

Arcadi Oliveres:

The consumption of those of us who live in the privileged North of the planet is an excessive consumption. In 2002, in Johannesburg, the World Conference on the Environment was held, and there we were told that if the world population, over 6 billion people, all wanted to consume the same paper, the same wood, the same petrol, or the same water that the wealthy of this planet are consuming – a statistic I read in the paper yesterday: each American consumes 550 litres of water a day, and each Mozambican consumes 10 litres of water a day. OK, a statistic from yesterday’s paper – so if everybody wanted to consume the same as we are - water, wood, petrol - they said in Johannesburg that in order to meet this new demand, we would need three planet Earths.

Carlos Taíbo:

I think that this is the fundamental problem in the discourse of the alternative movements: how we can break this vicious circle, how we can convince the people that we can live with a lot less and that maybe we’ll be a lot happier with a lot less.

Francisca Rodríguez:

Tell people that they shouldn’t allow our disappearance, because when we’re eliminated, an entire heritage belonging to each country, to each community, and to each nation disappears. It’s not only the heritage of farmers - it’s our job to produce for them - but this is something that belongs to everybody, so all of us have to look after it and defend it.

Voice over:

Brazil is the country of Latin America with the greatest social inequalities. The differences between rich and poor are abysmal. In Porto Alegre, Luiz Vicente Facco, international relations advisor for CONTAG, accompanies us on an unexpected yet memorable journey, a kind of trip through utopia.

Nelson Weber:

And today, Simone works on her land, mainly on the production of milk from pasture cows, and she’s a reference for what’s happening in this area.

Simone Pottratz – milk producer (Nueva Petrópolis, Brazil):

My life improved considerably, because I used to work in a factory, for seven years I worked in factories, and I was always getting ill, and I practically lived at the doctor’s office. But when I came to live here, in this house, we were given this land and we started our business, and I haven’t become ill since, and I haven’t been to the doctor’s, either. My life changed completely. When I got here I didn’t know anything. I knew that cows produced milk, and that was about it. I know, it’s funny, but that’s my story.

Luis Vicente Facco – International Relations Advisor for CONTAG (Nueva Petrópolis, Brazil):

And there’s a lot of discrimination against farmers. They’re seen as backward people, undeveloped people, the “cabofitos”, the cockroaches of life. But not over here, because there’s a perfect integration of the urban and the rural.

Voice over:

Nueva Petrópolis, in the heart of the Brazilian state of Río Grande do Sul, is where the Pía co-operative and its trade-union energise the economic, social and cultural life of the entire community.

Nelson Weber – Pía Co-operative (Nueva Petrópolis, Brazil):

The cooperative resisted buying the tetra-pack carton for 2 years, because we wanted to use bottles... and jars, but the market of city consumers... the consumers kept asking for long lasting milk, for the convenience of it, and  because tetra-pack was making propaganda campaigns in the media.

Voice over:

In the Gaucho language, Pía means happy, healthy, beautiful. And this is how the people of this community are. An economy based on solidarity and food sovereignty has generated wealth and prosperity for everyone here.

Luis Vicente Facco:

And this was the work that the federation did here, and it was a big success because we changed family farming, and at least nobody’s hungry here. They’ve got enough to eat. On their farms they’ve got to have everything: chickens, pigs, cows, milk, eggs... fruit, vegetables...

Voice over:

They are a dazzling example of how a better world is possible, of how utopia can be made real... As the visionary economist Agustí Chalaux de Subirá once said, in economic terms love is the means of production which generates the most added-value. A moving and profoundly scientific thought indeed.


Direction and Screenplay – Sonia Llera

Direction of content – Vincent Garcés

Executive production – Sonia Llera, Manolo Rodríguez, Sergio Escribano, Vicent Garcés

Photography and camera – Sonia Llera

Editing – Raquel Jimenez, Javier Cordero

Original Music – Ivan Lorenzana

Sound and mixing – Marco de Gregori Astrici

Musical recording – Paco Aguarod


Graphics and Headings – Jesus de Matos, Marcela Pelegrin

“Etalonaje” ?  - Miguel Tejerina

Production direction – Cruz Ortega

Production aid – Eva Nistal

Special collaboration (in order of appearance) – Arcadi Oliveres, Juan Manuel Gordillo, Carlos Taíbo, Silvia Ribeiro, Eduardo Baamonde, Francisca Rodríguez, Melchor Acién, Mario Ahumada, Paul Nicholson, Patricia Marco, Simone Pottratz, Luis Vicente Facco, Nelson Weber


Bitter Coffe