Coldplay frontman Chris Martin brought a surprise element of glitz to an otherwise staid gathering of the World Trade Organization (WTO) yesterday (Sept. 9) in Cancun, Mexico, when he delivered the so
Coldplay frontman Chris Martin brought a surprise element of glitz to an otherwise staid gathering of the World Trade Organization (WTO) yesterday (Sept. 9) in Cancun, Mexico, when he delivered the so-called "Big Noise" petition calling for fairer trade policies.
Martin, flanked by Coldplay guitarist Jonny Buckland, presented the petition to the WTO head Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi and urged the former Thai deputy prime minister to ensure the WTO's Sept. 10-14 meeting brought tangible results for the world's marginalized communities.
The Big Noise petition, with more than 3 million signatures, was developed by London-based charity Oxfam. Artists such as U2 frontman Bono, Beth Orton, Bonnie Raitt, Buena Vista Social Club singer Ibrahim Ferrer, London mayor Ken Livingstone, South African former Archbishop Desmond Tutu and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan have also joined Martin in backing the petition and Oxfam's "Make Trade Fair" campaign.
"We're here to raise awareness of fair trade practices, because millions of people around the world are suffering because of policies like export subsidies," Martin tells Billboard.com. "Trade, war and the lack of education are the biggest causes of poverty and we'd like to do what we can to improve the situation."
The most pressing issue facing the WTO is agriculture trade and the subsidies provided by the European Union and the U.S. to prop up their farmers. Martin -- who had performed two days before for 25,000 people at the Palacio de Los Deportes stadium in Mexico City -- said Europe and America were hypocrites when it came to trade. "When you hear George Bush and Tony Blair talk about free trade, it sounds like a great idea," he said. "But it's just not true -- their markets are rigged against poor countries."
Martin comes from a long tradition of performers using their status to make political points, but he has clearly done his homework on issues like trade, farming and local indigenous communities. He affected a rock star languor, telling Dr. Supachai, "You seem like a nice guy: why is it so hard to get this problem sorted out?" But he spoke fluently about the impact of U.S. cotton dumping in West Africa and the plight of Mexican "campesinos" (maize farmers) facing a glut of cheap, subsidized U.S. corn imports.
The singer has also visited the people he campaigns on behalf of, meeting the campesinos in the town of Santa Isabel Tepetzala in the Mexican farm belt. In 2002, he traveled to the Dominican Republic and Haiti to see how the country's citizens are affected by the current trade rules
Martin is currently writing material for the follow up to Coldplay's double platinum sophomore Capitol album, "A Rush of Blood to the Head," but he is wary about dragging his political beliefs into his songs. "It's very hard to find anything to rhyme with 'North American Free Trade Agreement'," he says, only half-joking. "I know we're setting ourselves up for a fall. But at the moment the melodies aren't coming, so we'll just talk about the issues. Bono says our priority is to just write good songs anyway."
He said he was happy to get involved in the campaign when Oxfam first approached him two years ago. "It seemed so much better than just advertising shoes," he said. "I also support Amnesty International, but I guess I back what most intelligent people would support anyway."