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C'mon church, it's time to get fair

Fair traders urge Aussie Christians to get on board

Slavery. Poverty. Child labour. Gender equality. Climate change. Most Christians care about these issues, but often feel powerless to make any meaningful difference.

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And yet a few simple changes to our daily habits will, collectively, create a real and lasting impact upon each of these global issues.

“All fair trade is doing is asking people to do what they do anyway in a slightly different way.”

This is the simple yet powerful message of John Martin, a retired Uniting Church minister turned fair trade advocate. Martin is organiser of the annual Australian Fair Trade Faith Conference, to be held for the second time this weekend at Springwood Uniting Church in the NSW Blue Mountains. The conference (held last year in Queanbeyan, NSW) is most likely the only Christian fair trade conference in Australia, and was developed by Martin in an attempt to rally church support for the ethical imperatives of fair trade.

“It’s so easy,” he stresses. “I mean we’re not asking people to donate. We’re not asking people to go and volunteer their time in an overseas country. All fair trade is doing is asking people to do what they do anyway in a slightly different way.

“For example, if you’re buying tea or coffee or chocolate, look for those products with a fair trade mark, which indicates that the product was purchased in such a way that the workers received a fair wage, that they worked under healthy conditions and the method of production was environmentally sustainable.”

“[It’s about] how I spend my money, so I am in direct control of who’s going to get a fair wage from the chocolate or the coffee or the tea or whatever that I buy.”

But even though this issue is so easily actionable and has been promoted internationally for almost 80 years, Martin feels many in the Australian church have been slow to jump on board the fair trade movement.

“There is some awareness but I don’t know if awareness in the church is any greater than in the community. This frankly disappoints me that in the church there’s people that are very committed to justice issues – like refugees, asylum seekers and the environment, which are all very important of course and I am [committed to these] too – but when it comes to fair trade, their eyes seem to glaze over a little bit. It’s something they’re not interested in or they’re not committed to following. And yet of all those issues, it’s probably the one that they have the most control over. [It’s about] how I spend my money, so I am in direct control of who’s going to get a fair wage from the chocolate or the coffee or the tea or whatever that I buy.”

It needs to be recognised that many church bodies and Christian organisations are members of Stop the Traffik Australia, which campaigns for slavery-free products and ethical supply chains, and a body that Martin works closely with. These include Churches of Christ, Anglican Church Southern Queensland, Anglican Overseas Aid, JustSalvos, Baptist Union of Victoria, Baptist World Aid, IJM (International Justice Mission), Hagar and more. Other churches have already signed up as “fair trade faith communities” with the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand. Meanwhile, the Uniting Church has led the way in encouraging its congregations, organisations, schools and colleges to use and promote fair trade products.

Martin acknowledges that many churches also regularly run fair trade fairs and buy ethically-sourced products, but says the take-up in Australia has been much slower than in other countries such as the UK and New Zealand.

It was while living in the UK in the 1980s that John and his late wife Noelene became increasing convicted about the need to champion fair trade, as Noelene volunteered for fair trade organisation Traidcraft. Even then, many UK schools, churches, towns, cities and even whole counties were building networks as committed fair trade groups. However, on returning to Australia, the Martins discovered little fair trade activity, so they set about helping churches and local communities to engage with ethical buying principles and organisations.

Other Aussie fair trade pioneers are Mignonne and Grant Murray, who established their business Tribes and Nations 14 years ago after serving as CMS missionaries in places like Tanzania and witnessing “the flipside of poverty in unfair trade”.

The Murrays now sell fair trade coffee and tea, as well as other products, to around 30 Australian churches from a range of Anglican, Baptist, Uniting, Salvation Army and independent denominations. But apart from these regular customers, business to the church has slowed.

“It’s about changing part of the church culture so that we have a default position where we purchase fair trade.”

“More and more churches have come on board but there’s been sort of a lull in the last couple of years. So, as much as it has grown in the churches, it’s still way behind … I think the general public have a better idea and a better vision and desire to take it on board,” says Mignonne.

She puts this down to a lack of understanding about what the ethos of fair trade is all about. “For us it’s to live with the poor in mind every day.”

However, she’s hopeful this will turn around in the near future, with Millennials and younger generations being “very, very connected in that realm of fair trade” and “very justice-minded.”

“The next generation coming up, I think they’re going to change things. They want to walk like Jesus now, not wait for eternity,” says Mignonne, who will present a resource on engaging young people at the Fair Trade Faith Conference.

Martin also hopes his work will convict Christians that fair trade is an essential “expression of the justice dimension of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He clarifies: “Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, and caring for the poor and sick and imprisoned and so on. Also many of his parables talk about the fair treatment of the poor – the widows and orphans and so on. It’s also reflected in the Old Testament through the prophets.”

So far there are only around 30 registrations for this weekend’s Australian Fair Trade Faith Conference, although Martin stresses these people are all enthusiastic about the cause and building a network of individuals and churches to champion fair trade.

“As a smaller group, we’ll be able to engage more easily with each other and share ideas,” he says. “Out of the conference I’d like to see a network of churches and Christian people who are committed to this so that we maintain the passion that we have. It’s about changing part of the church culture so that we have a default position where we purchase fair trade.”

For more information or to register for the Fair Trade Faith Conference – Friday, May 31 to Saturday, June 1 – go to fairtradefaithconference.com.au.

How to become a fair trade individual:

How to become a fair trade church:

  • Ensure all tea, coffee and as many other products as possible used by your church are fair trade
  • Host a fair trade fair or event, especially for Fairtrade Fortnight, August 2-19, 2019. You can find event tips on the Tribes and Nations website.
  • Make fair trade information available to your congregation, such as Oxfam’s What She Makes video and Made in Poverty booklet, as well as resources from the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand
  • Sign up to be a Fair Trade Faith Group with the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand
  • Check out the tips for faith groups on the Australian Fair Trade Faith Conference blog and further church resources on the Tribes and Nations website

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Fair Trade Faith Conference

Calendar Icon31/05/2019 - 01/06/2019

Map Marker IconSpringwood Uniting Church Centre, Blue Mountains NSW

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