Millions-strong Christian Alliance Launches Campaign to Change Trade Rules

Dec 13, 2002 02:40 PM EST

Geneva -- An alliance representing hundreds of millions of Christians world-wide has launched a global campaign in favour of "fair" trade practices and human rights.

The "Trade for People, not People for Trade" campaign aims to make the rights of people and the protection of the environment essential criteria for trade agreements between countries.

"We accept that trade can bring about good in our world," acknowledged Christoph Stueckelberger, director of Bread for All (Switzerland), a member of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), which is sponsoring the campaign.

But churches, Stueckelberger said, should not be satisfied with a vision of trade that is "reduced to mere equality of opportunity for all individuals to compete without hindrance. Such equality has only helped those who already have the resources and access to political and economic power to gain more."

Stueckelberger made his comments at a news conference on Tuesday in Geneva, where the World Trade Organization, one of the targets of the campaign, is based.

The ecumenical campaign is promoting trade rules that recognise people's right to food and to "essential" services, such as water, as well as the regulation of trans-national corporations. The alliance brings together more than 85 church denominations and agencies from both rich and poor countries.

"The populations that are victims of the international system aren't always aware of the system that is at work," said the Rev. Woungly-Massaga Mamia Ebenezer, director of the African Protestant Church of Cameroon, an EAA participant. "They need to know that their condition isn't inevitable."

A key feature of the initiative is a signature petition demanding that international rules governing trade take account of human beings, not just market forces.

"Market mechanics are seen in many parts of the world as natural law," said Stueckelberger, who is also a professor of ethics at the University of Basel. "Inequality is seen as a natural law that has always existed and will always exist. The churches say that economic structures are man-made and not natural."

The campaign is a Christian counterpart to a world-wide secular movement against exploitative trade. The Christian perspective brings an "added value", insisted Musimbi Kanyoro, general secretary of the World YWCA, another EAA member.

"What we bring to the table is a great amount of people who are already united, people who are historically connected, who have a variety of perspectives, people in marketing, lawyers, people who are affected [by unfair trade practices], people who make the decisions, the rich and the poor."

By Laurie Spurr