Why are church leaders resistant to Fair Trade?
Over the past 40 years of my association with Fair Trade in the churches I have come to notice that, although church members think Fair Trade and ethical shopping are good ideas, there seems to be a reluctance by church leaders to endorse or encourage Fair Trade in their congregations.
As a Uniting Church minister, most of my experience with Fair Trade has been in the context of the church. I can only recall hearing one sermon preached by a minister where Fair Trade was actively promoted. That was by Rev. Janice Freeston at Springwood Uniting Church, probably in about 2012. Some ministers have been promotors of Fair Trade, writing articles, advocating and sponsoring resolutions at Synods or Assemblies, yet seem to have lost interest or focus. They lose interest like the seed that fell on the path where there was not sufficient soil to take root or like the seed that fell in the thorns where other concerns chocked the fair trade message.in the Parable of the Sower. Why?
Uniting Church Synods have passed resolutions promoting and encouraging the use of Fair Trade products. Many of these have been agreed to by consensus of the Synod or Assembly, yet for some reason the decision doesn’t lead to action. Those voting don’t seem to think the decision applies to them. Does that question the integrity of those voting?
Roadblocks to Fair Trade include a lack of support and encouragement from such groups as the Fair Trade Association for Churches to adopt and maintain Fair Trade status. Other social justice issues also sometimes take priority. Often the issues that do prompt action are local ones. Even though we say that God loves the world, we behave as if God has a special affection for Australians.
Lack of knowledge about fair trade may also play a part. Fair trade, with its apparent focus on crafts is seen as a ‘Micky Mouse’ issue. Not seen as a legitimate subject Biblically and theologically
There are some potential solutions.
Focus on the Ten Principles of Fair Trade. These are accessible on the World Fair Trade Organisation website.
Point out that this is not all that difficult. At a basic level Fair Trade does not ask people to do what they are not already doing. We all purchase consumables and apparel. Although it may be very hard to purchase products that are guaranteed completely slavery free, we can be guided by the Fair Trade accreditation labels, especially those of Fairtrade International and the World Fair Trade Organisation where there is a rigorous process of evaluation and assessment of supply chains.
Be guided by the various websites of the allies listed below. Remind people that this is a theological issue with much Biblical basis for fair trade behaviour. Develop a link, theologically and practically with the Public Theology movement. Encourage Churches to become Fair Trade Faith Groups. The minimum standard required is to use Fairtrade tea and coffee at church events such as morning tea after church and to have one event a year where fair trade products are promoted and sold. Not difficult .
Here are some Australian groups which relate to the Christian Church (listed alphabetically). All have websites with resources:
- ACRATH (Australia Catholic Religions Against Trafficking in Humans)
- Be Slavery Free
- Ethical Fashion Guide – Baptist World Aid
- Fair Trade Association of Australia and NZ Faith Groups Programme
- Fairtrade Australia
- Shop Ethical
Rev. John Martin
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