Building Alliances for Alternatives

Building alliances for alternatives
by Rev. Dr. Ann Wansbrough UnitingCare NSW.ACT

Today we have heard expert analysis of the WTO, stories about what is happening, and suggestions for alternatives. We have heard how people in other nations are building alliances for alternatives. We have heard from members of our own alliance. I want to thank all those who have contributed their expertise in that way and made today worthwhile.

In this last speech of the day, I want to offer something a little different from previous speakers.

What we have heard has made us angry. We know what is wrong. We know that we want to bring about change. We know some of the alternatives. We know that we can link with people with similar concerns here and overseas.

We are here because of the work done by AFTINET, an alliance of community groups, churches, and unions who want alternatives to the current WTO rules. We already have a strong, effective alliance in Australia. I will therefore focus on the question: how can we nurture the alliance, to keep it strong and healthy?

We know that this struggle is not going to be won tomorrow or next week. So how do we nurture ourselves so that we can maintain the struggle as long as is needed?

Damian this morning made a brief allusion to this in his closing remarks, when he referred to the need for hope. That was a very wise remark.

The basis of hope is vision. We need to be clear not only about what we are against, but about our vision – what we are for, what we want to see happen.

In AFTINET, we use the term FAIR trade because we are not against trade, or globalization. But we also are not for trade at any cost. We are for fair trade.

We believe that ethics are a matter for human beings, not for the invisible hand of the market.

We are for a system of international law that give priority to human rights, ecological responsibility and labour rights.

We are for a system of international law that is coherent in the policy outcomes it requires of governments. We are for a system that does not allow governments or corporations to play off human rights against trade.

We are for mechanisms of negotiation that respect all the participants, whether the nations are rich or poor, large or small, no matter what their racial or cultural or religious composition.

We are for a system of negotiation that gives priority to the perspectives and experience and needs of the poorest nations, not the richest.

We are for honesty and truthfulness on the part of politicians and bureaucrats – particularly truthfulness and openness about what they are proposing or accepting in trade agreements on behalf of our nation.

We are for community, healthy societies, a healthy global environment, and a world where every nation shares in the world’s decisions and everyone shares in the world’s prosperity.

This is our vision of what is necessary and what is possible. This is the basis for building strong and effective alliances that can challenge the economists and the corporations, the bureaucrats and the politicians. It is this positive vision that can be the basis for change.

That is why, later this week, our protest will be a rally in the center of the city, not a blockade at the place of the WTO meeting.

We want to give no room to arrogant MPs dismissing us as being merely anti-globalization, or unable to cope with change, as they so wrongly did last year when some of us were involved in protests about the World Bank (for example, Peter Costello).

We want a world that is just. A world in which genuine peace is possible. Not the peace that comes from bombing nations into submission, but the peace that comes from ensuring that all nations can live free of poverty and can provide food, education, housing, health care and jobs for their people. The peace that comes from ensuring that nations can trust that their land will not be swamped by rising seawater, and from ensuring this planet remains green and full of living things. The peace that comes from respect for various cultures, traditions and religions.

Vision is the first basis of strong and healthy alliances.

The second basis is mutual respect and understanding. The movement for fair trade is not monolithic. It is a network of many different types of organizations, with different beliefs, and different histories. We need to respect one another. To understand one another. To build on the strengths we find in one another as individuals and as organizations.

The third essential ingredient in building strong alliances is that we use methods that reflect our vision. If we want inclusiveness in international trade mechanisms, we need to be inclusive in our own organizations and networks. If we want governments to respect human rights and labour rights, then we need to go about our advocacy in ways that respect human rights and labour rights. We need, for example, to be good employers. If we want coherence in international law, then we need to show coherence between what we say, and what we do. If we want a system that respects the web of life, the ecological systems of the earth, then we need to ensure that we show respect for the earth in the way we operate as a network, and in the actions we undertake.

The fourth essential ingredient is hope. Damian pointed this out this morning. We need to inspire hope in one another, to tell stories of what we have achieved, to remind ourselves of other difficult goals that peoples’ movements have achieved.

AFTINET already has some stories to tell about its achievements. We achieved the parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s relationship with the WTO. We achieved the establishment of a government advisory council on trade with NGO representation. We have provided well researched and well argued submissions to various inquiries and consultative processes. We have created public debate and contributed a strong alternative voice to that debate. We have been recognized as an organization that needs to be included, and taken seriously.

Today, we have heard stories of peoples’ movements overseas, and what they have achieved. We have stories also of how the movement is growing globally.

We also can draw on stories from other struggles for justice. Stories like the fall of apartheid in South Africa. For many years, many NGOs in Australia, including the Uniting Church, supported sanctions against South Africa. We were criticized as unrealistic. But apartheid in South Africa eventually ended.

Hopes for East Timor to be independent were also said to be unrealistic. But East Timor is now a nation.

There are many such stories. There are stories within our various organizations, stories in other nations, and global stories.

We need to hope, and we need to nurture that hope by drawing on those stories. We need to tell one another stories of the great changes that have occurred in this world because people of vision formed alliances to bring about their vision.

The impossible can and does happen. People’s movements can bring about change. National and global alliances can be effective.

I am here as a Christian minister. I represent UnitingCare, part of the Uniting Church in Australia. I am here, because my church, and other churches, believes that the questions that we have discussed today, questions of human rights, environmental rights, and labour standards, are questions of ultimate significance. They are questions about what is important in being human, what is important in human relationships, what is the purpose of our existence. Do we exist for profit, or for relationship? For trade, or for justice?

Our previous speaker referred to the satanic nature of what is happening. This struggle is about good and evil. As a Christian, I can only agree.

Some of us present today talk about God, and recognize these as theological questions. Some of us prefer a more philosophical approach. Whatever our approach, we are here today because we agree that these questions really matter. That this is a struggle worth pursuing. That this is about the well-being and future of humankind. That is the basis of our alliance.

Our previous speaker reminded us that these are issues for which people die. In Australia, it is easy to be blasé about these questions, but they are questions that really matter. This struggle is, for many people in the world, a matter of life and death. That is why it is worth dying for the vision of fair trade and in pursuit of human rights, environmental responsibility and labour rights. These are matters of survival, and matters of ultimate significance.

So I want to end with this encouragement: This alliance is worth building, this vision is worth pursuing, and this struggle is worthy of our participation.


In the question time I was asked as to what churches are contributing to the fair trade campaign.

  1. UnitingCare NSW.ACT is active in AFTINET. We have funded the initial printing of AFTINET’s booklet on the WTO (The case for fair trade: a citizen’s guide to the WTO) in 2000 and its pamphlet on trade in services in 2002. I am on the AFTINET working group. We have provided some funding to AFTINET for its campaign over the next 12 months, beginning with the present work around the Sydney WTO meeting. We support AFTINET’s events, and distribute its publications.
  2. Like other members of AFTINET, we build concerns about the WTO trade agenda into our advocacy and social justice education programs. UnitingCare has made submissions on trade issues to various parliamentary and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade inquiries, and been represented as a witness at hearings.
  3. The Uniting Church (like a number of other Australian churches) has partner churches in countries that are adversely affected by the WTO agenda. We learn from those churches and use their views and information in our advocacy. We also share with them our knowledge and analysis, e.g. in training programs in Australia for leaders of Pacific Islands churches.
  4. The Mercy Foundation (a Catholic organization) has also funded AFTINET. Representatives of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) and the Grail are also members of the AFTINET working group and support its activities. Suzette Clarke from ACSJC represented AFTINET at a recent meeting on Fair Trade in London.
  5. Churches have global networks, which are active on these issues. For example, the Lutheran World Federation has published a study booklet raising issues about the WTO agenda. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Christian Conference of Asia, and the World Council of Churches have engaged in research, education and advocacy on these issues. It is a common theme at conferences.
  6. In doing this work the churches draw on their understanding of the nature of development, and their support of international human rights instruments and environmental agreements.