We are all part of an unfair system. Care to change it?

Today at 4PM 14 people met together in a comfortable room at the Society for Promotion of Alternative Computing and employment (SPACE). These were people who came together because they wanted to see how they could contribute towards fighting unfairness and injustice in the world. These were people who came together because they felt that they could do something about it.

The movie - Black Gold Movie - was screened at the meeting. The movie highlights unfairness in capitalistic production systems where there is massive information asymmetry and lack of empowerment of participants.

Specifically it showed the plight of Ethiopian coffee farmers who barely crawl along with the meager revenue they manage while at the other end of the retail chain coffee retail chains rake in billions. The irony was clearly brought out in shots where coffee growers complain of malnutrition, lack of infrastructure, lack of education while coffee retail chain employees praise the positive contribution of coffee shops to western societies.

Pricing structure along the coffee supply chain is being unfairly manipulated by the big corporates and commodity trading centers of the western world while the impoverished coffee producers were being exploited by monopolistic or cartelistic middle men. The story is about a man who is trying to help his cooperative of 74000 farmers get a fair price for their efforts.

Although I personally do not believe that small holdings or small farmers have a real future in a more and more capitalistic world, the life of these people who are frozen in time, in terms of capabilities, environment and experience, should be a real concern for consumers like us who are at the other end of the food chain. It also brings into our attention the need to bring fairness and justice in all our transactions.

We may not be able to help Ethiopian coffee farmers but the movie is only a sample of what happens all around us. By not realizing that such things happen, by not protesting against such gross unfairness, by silently being part of such networks we are all being guilty of promoting such unfair, injust systems. So open your eyes, look around, think and act. Be the change you wish to see in the world.

As an aside, I had an opportunity to introduce one of my friends during the ice breaker. I proudly introduced him as the person who boldly quit a high paying job in the IT services industry to start a career in core engineering research. It is people like him that our society needs. Not just for the sake of increasing innovation but also for contributing to positive change in our society.

We need more like him who are courageous enough to swim against the tide. As more people break the orthodoxy and conservativeness of our society they will usher in the change that the society much needs. As an interesting statistic, of the 14 people who turned up, 7 were people who had quit high paying jobs to pursue their passion. Unbelievable? Believe it :-)

you are realize about the small farmers problems & you like to do something for them its a really good thing.i hope you will do very good work for them. i like to appreciate you

The Ethiopian farmers are being given a raw deal, but the fact of the matter is - if the farmers were provided with schools, hospitals, houses, water, food, money from the profits made from selling coffee, what will the corporates do? They exist to make profits. I agree that it should not be at the expense of people, but even if money is passed around to remove their plight, there will still be socialistic groups who will want more. Top that with incapable leadership in Ethiopia, and suddenly you have a recipe for disaster, not unlike the different African countries infected with ethnic cleansing and greed.
Is Capitalism bad? No? Its a system, and like all systems, it has pros and cons.
Should the profits be shared? No. That would defeat competition.
Should the people be helped? Yes. How? That's a ques which involves more people than just the Coffee owners.
And will free software actually break the shackles of greedy corporates?

Yes I do agree with you that the evil is not capitalism. Rather, the problems are inherent problems in the society. However capitalism by itself does not, and will not, take care off such problems because the 'capitalist' will always stand to gain by having such problems around. Again I do not see that as a problem with capitalism, because that is again primary animal (err... human) nature - to keep one's personal well being and safety above everything else.

I think the fundamental problems here are

a) Lack of information about opportunities in the market
b) Lack of empowerment that would allow the producers to grab these opportunities

I would however like to answer one of your question from a different perspective.

Should the profits be shared?

A profit made by discounting costs being unpaid for is not really profit. So in the particular case somebody should really be paying for the maintenance of the laborers involved in the cultivation of coffee. Maintenance would include all their and their families living expenses, their educational and health expenses. That is the ideal definition of the cost of labor. So when it is not being paid for by exploiting market conditions, it is not really fair profit. A normal solution is government intervention in providing these empowering agents like health and education while recovering the costs of these from the corporates who are benefiting from the biased system through taxes or duties or even absorbing the costs in the short term.

BTW why was "Free Software" brought into context here? It might help in the technology empowerment part of the people but may not become a direct contributor to the solution to the problem at hand.

Hi Anoop,
I don't understand what kind of contribution required changing this. May be it’s my lack of knowledge; I am not getting anything in my mind. Hope you can enlighten me more :)

The unfairness in the system is so transparent that people who are not at the receiving end of it does not even realize that it is happening. What needs to be done is simple. We have to be a more aware of what is happening around us, we have to be more sensitized and finally we have to apply thought before all our actions. Then of course, those of us who want to be more proactive can decide to act and work together to solve these problems.

Time and again, people are made aware of such injustice, but everyone slips back to their daily routine. Why does that relapse of sensitivity happen?

1. Because most social issues do not have a quick fix solution. Most of them has evolved over generations and people are not willing to give a shot to something that is not sure to produce results. A lot of such issues do not even have a all acceptable solution.

2. Fear of being left out. Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world.". But how many of us would rather be considered a "possible failure" than a "sure fire success"? Most of us will privately admit that they want to do their bit, but dont want those attempts to affect their daily life. If there is a mass movement, then maybe more people would participate.

The solution could be mass movement through the media. If enough people are sensitized at the same time with a crystal clear solution and definite time frame, a social change cold be possible. For this a very dedicated leadership should be present.

A sad fact of social leadership is that.. if there isnt a capable leader, an incapable one will still become the leader, and will prevent a capable one from becoming a leader with experience.

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