10 January 2019

Canberra Centre closes its doors on fair trade shops

| Emma Davidson
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Oxfam shopfront in the Canberra Centre with pink balloons in doorway and sale signs in window

Oxfam’s Canberra Centre shop, due to close by 13 February. File photo.

Recent visitors to the Canberra Centre may have noticed the closure of Tree of Life on 5 January. Tree of Life has confirmed there are no plans to open a new store in Canberra at present. They are among a number of familiar businesses departing the Canberra Centre, including Oxfam.

News that the Oxfam shop will also close its doors, with the final day of trading understood to be February 13, means that there will no longer be any shop in the Canberra Centre where all products are fair trade, for the first time in decades.

“Just like many other Australian-based retailers, Oxfam Australia Trading is facing a tougher market, with increasing global competition and a continued shift to online shopping. In line with these trends, the new model will shift a greater emphasis on our online store and reduce our focus on retail shops,” an Oxfam Australia spokesperson said.

“Oxfam Australia Trading is conducting a store-by-store assessment of each of its retail shop’s medium to long-term viability. Following an assessment of Oxfam Australia Trading’s Canberra store in ACT, one permanent staff member and eight causal staff were informed on 11 December of the financially unviable terms of a new lease and the intention to close the shop.”

The Oxfam shop’s Canberra Centre lease expires on 28 February.

Several other shops at the Canberra Centre are also closing down. Photo: Dianna Snape.

Oxfam said that a staff consultation period was undertaken between 11-17 December 2018, during which staff were provided time to ask questions, seek clarification, make suggestions, provide feedback and communicate alternative options for consideration. Staff were advised on 21 December 2018 of the decision to close the shop.

“It is important to acknowledge that the decision to close the Canberra store is in no way reflective of the commitment, efforts and performance of staff. Oxfam always makes every attempt to redeploy employees in roles made redundant, and will continue to do this with the Canberra store employees,” the Oxfam spokesperson said.

The Oxfam shop provided an outlet for coffee, chocolate, sauces, books, homewares, jewellery, and skincare products from worker-owned co-operatives and fair trade producers worldwide, including Aboriginal-run co-operatives within Australia.

Fair trade means that the workers who produce the goods are paid a living wage, have fair working conditions, sustainable practices, environmental protection, and empowers farmers and workers. This is stronger protection for workers than merely meeting all legal obligations. In some countries, the legal minimum wage is not enough to live on, minimum standards for working conditions may include work practices that are not safe, and may not allow workers to collectivise and form unions.

“Shopping ethical, local, and buying fair trade is one way we as consumers can make a conscious choice and invest in a sustainable future,” says Sian Williamson, Amnesty International worker and an ethical shopper.

“I buy fair trade because I know this means the workers are paid at all levels of the supply chain, and I know my purchase has had a positive impact on communities and was sustainably sourced.”

For Canberra shoppers who want to continue to support fair trade, there are now limited options. Seeking out fair trade brands in mainstream stores is easier with the help of Fairtrade Association certification on coffee, chocolate, tea, and cotton. For clothing, Baptist World Aid Australia produce an Ethical Fashion Guide that you can download and keep on your phone.

There’s a local option online, with Canberra-based online store Ozfairtrade.org endorsed by the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand. Even after the Oxfam shop closes its doors in Canberra, it will continue to trade online. But for shoppers who can’t wait for postage or prefer to shop in person, Oxfam’s closure is sad news.

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A very misleading headline. Two shops close down – big deal – I’m sure some other stores will replace them. The Canberra Centre is not a charity.

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