Photo: Smileus/ Stock Adobe
Chris Martin: Harvest for the World 
By Danny Bowman

When your music is global, so too is the influence you exert, and while some artists have hastily sought out the protection of publicists, agents, and blacked-out limousine windows, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin has chosen to pursue a rather more visible, audible route toward cultural change.
Chris Martin’s willingness to speak out is well-known. As much as it has served him as a respected statesman of political pop, by his own admission there have been occasions when he has found himself banished to the Bono or Bob Geldof corner of global philanthropy. “It’s not a place I’ve ever sought out,” he laughs.
In truth, it is an unfair slant for an artist whose lyrical prowess is simply a reflection of a genuine plea to see us move somewhere closer toward global equality. He credits the birth of his daughter Apple – with filmstar former wife Gwyneth Paltrow – in 2004 as being the point at which things changed.
“Things really began to gather pace,” he explains. “It’s not as though global ills weren’t in my mind before then, but I think when you have children, your perception of pretty much everything intensifies. I also began to appreciate the fact that on stage, in interviews, and through lyrics, musicians have perhaps a greater ability to influence and to get people thinking about things than almost anyone else. If you can get the right melody with the right message,” he continues, “you’ve got an ethical, everlasting message that will stay in someone’s head for a long time, and to not use that opportunity would be wrong.”
Martin’s first major foray into philanthropy came in 2002, when he accompanied Emily Eavis – co-organizer of the legendary annual Glastonbury Festival – to the Dominican Republic and Haiti to be shown where money donated by the festival to Oxfam had been invested.
It was also a trip that opened up the singer’s broader understanding of the power and importance of the fair trade concept, something he would go on to explore further in future overseas trips, not least three years later in Ghana – again with Oxfam – as part of the Make Trade Fair project.
From the moment the touring party left the parking lot at the Dominican Republic’s main Punta Cana Airport, the realization quickly dawned that Western minds were not solving the crisis, they were exacerbating it.
“The first thing was the tough working and living conditions people were having to endure,” he says, “and at the heart of these were the grossly unfair trade rules. In cloud cuckoo land where we live, I don’t think we appreciate what those people have to go through just to survive every day. The difference in real money that ends up in people’s pockets when countries such as the Dominican Republic and Haiti sell their product to a fair trade company – as opposed to when they sell it to a ‘fat-boy’ company like Nestle – is profound,” says Martin. “To us, as consumers, it’s about 20 pence per jar, yet to the grower, it can be up to $90 per hundred-weight of coffee. That’s a week’s worth of food.”
In Haiti, things were slightly better, with cooperatives already using nurseries to cultivate the best crops, then handing them out to each farmer who had signed up for the scheme.
“We met a farmer – he told us that when he sells his coffee to a fair trade company, he gets paid almost three times as much. Trade justice, put simply, is a matter of life and death, but it’s also about human dignity and equality.”
The musician also admits to being shocked at the quantity of unwanted Western goods that were being “dumped” on the island. 
“From the outside you’d see this as a good example of how produce wasn’t being wasted – here we were, the so-called developed world, passing on massive bulkloads of items, and this is all being encouraged by the governments on the island. And yet, on closer inspection, this wasn’t a good thing at all. When these products land, they help people in the short-term, but very quickly obliterate the ability of producers on the island to sell their own cultivated goods. And the knock-on effect from that is to stifle consumer spending going into other areas, so the whole thing retracts.”
While Chris Martin’s experiences take him back as far as 15 years, the painful reality of Haiti and the Dominican Republic – just as in so many other Third World or remote nations – is that this practice continues today. Indeed, the 2010 earthquake on the island obliterated some advances that had been made. The premise – at its lowest marketed denominator “to feed starving children” – will always appear admirable, but whether the crop is rice, peanuts, or anything else, it traps people in hand-to-mouth poverty and starts a chain of dependency that is pernicious in its process.
“It was such a shift in the whole concept for me,” continues the Coldplay frontman. “It was strange to think that something we regarded as so virtuous and honest could actually be doing harm.”
In Ghana, his criticisms were again aimed at the higher powers, with the national government seemingly happy to import from the likes of Thailand and America, to the detriment of its own producers.
“It was extraordinary to see a country that was trying to let its rice farmers do well, yet its actions were doing the opposite as it continued to import stuff really cheaply.”
In March 2019, Ghana’s Akufo-Addo administration did, in fact, launch a new initiative to end the estimated $1 billion annual importation of rice by the year 2025. Certainly, the nation’s vast fertile lands and excellent human resources give it the potential of becoming a major rice producer, but many agricultural commentators have suggested the target is overly ambitious.
“For balance, there are some places where things are working,” he continues. “It was so exciting to see this stuff in action because the donations from the UK to Oxfam, as well as the other charities, do have an effect; but we will always want more to happen, and faster.” 
Chris has enlarged his philanthropic reach to take in a vast number of other projects. A fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy saw a London concert in 2012, and two years later he was part of the Band Aid 30 collective that sought to raise funds and awareness in light of the Ebola crisis.
In 2015, he became Creative Director of the Global Citizen Festival, developed to mark the establishment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
“There is a 17-task checklist that’s designed to end extreme global poverty by the year 2030,” he says. “That sounds ambitious, but we would rather miss that deadline by pushing ourselves than coast toward and end-goal and feel we can take our foot off the gas because the deadline is far, far away. Where global poverty is concerned, the quicker you get to your goals, the more lives you save – it’s as simple as that.”
His band, Coldplay, also donates 10 percent of its annual earnings to 28 different charities, including Amnesty International, the Red Cross, War Child and, of course, Make Trade Fair. “It’s something that has become very natural to us, and I’m glad we can keep flying that flag,” says the lead singer. “Really, compared to what they need to make a real difference, it’s a drop in the ocean, but it is our drop, and that’s what makes it special.”
What you have to admire about Chris Martin is his ability to stay relevant. People listen to him, just as they listen to his music, because there is spirited reinvention, not to mention a precision over the message at every turn. Coldplay has harnessed, tweaked, and refined its sound with every new album; so, too, does its frontman appreciate the need for us to talk about global issues in a way that makes the subject feel as though it is an evolving and ongoing quest.
“I think the connection is there,” he insists. “Obviously social media helps a lot when it comes to getting the right message across – that’s certainly something we never had before; it was down to Attenborough or evening news bulletins. Do I worry that the messages aren’t getting through while other, less important ones are? Perhaps, but I think that’s the nature of the beast. We can’t be on this stuff 24/7 – people will just turn off it and everything will become diluted. So while I don’t think we can ever let up on the awareness, the trick is almost certainly to keep the message fresh so that people continue to listen,” he explains, before concluding: “The more of us that do, the more action can be taken. This is true people power, and it’s global.”
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