Hi Esther, how you doing? Tell us a bit about what you do?

Hey! I’m doing pretty well thank you! I’m a director of Manumit Coffee Roasters in Cardiff. We hire survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking to roast coffee – seeking to get them back into work through building soft and hard skills on a good wage. We source our coffee through traceable and slavery free supply chains and then we put our profits into anti slavery projects locally and internationally.

Where did the idea for Manumit come from and what’s with the name?

Manumit is an old English word which means ‘to set someone free from slavery’. Manumit came out of a charity called ‘Red Community’ which began as a group of Christians that would meet up and pray about trafficking. It has now grown to a charity that:

  • Provides training about modern slavery 
  • Goes into schools, universities, workplaces, groups etc. to raise awareness about slavery
  • Provides funding/sponsorship for survivors (for things like college courses, food, clothing, books or club costs for their children)
  • Embrace befriending project – providing friendships to survivors of trafficking to help them integrate into local community and prevent re-trafficking. 

Out of this project, we realised there was a need to create a safe space for people to get back into work. We noticed that when people were getting the right to work they were either not able to get jobs due to gaps on their CV, not even having a CV, or being fired/quitting within 1 week because they couldn’t handle being thrown back into an intense 9-5 job. 

Manumit was formed! We set up a coffee roastery as a safe space for these people to get back into work, grow in confidence and gain skills. We chose not to do a cafe for various reasons including safety and intensity. We pay the living wage and provide specialty, slavery free coffee to our customers. Our staff love working because the profit made from the projects will go to anti-slavery projects, meaning they are working to support other people who have been through the same thing as them. We also provide certified barista training for survivors of trafficking too. 

Human trafficking is a huge problem – why did you want to tackle it through coffee?

Hand pick, shipped across the world, to be crushed & ground for our pleasure – are we talking about coffee beans or people?  There are a lot of similarities in the stories and journeys – even if it is horrendous and slightly cheesy to compare them.

There are also a lot of issues in coffee supply chains too. So it was a chance to make an impact on slavery on a larger scale – ensuring our coffee is slavery free and traceable, as well as supporting survivors in the UK, too! 

On a personal note, I have always been passionate about coffee – being a big advocate of Fairtrade from a young age. I was also an ‘Emerging Influencer’ with Tearfund in 2015 and attempted to run a campaign to get people to think about where their coffee bean had been (terrible pun). But one big moment of inspiration came when I was 15 walking through Soho in London, thinking about the women who were involved in the sex industry. I wondered about what they wrote on their CV when they wanted to find another job. I had an idea, which I’m sure came from God – a passion to train people to be baristas and give them work experience. And now 10 years later it’s what I’m doing! 

The biggest issue facing the coffee industry at the moment is the C-market price – this is the price of coffee represented in the stock market. It is currently at a 12 year low meaning that farmers are selling coffee at below the price of the cost of production. This means that farmers are having to cover the rest of the cost. They are essentially paying for us to have coffee. Companies then have it at a price where they can make more profit. Does that mean coffee is slavery free? Surely at this low price it cannot be.

We need to make sure that we are not only paying coffee farmers the cost of production and not only the cost of living, but enough for them to make a profit. That way they can buy what they need, save, grow and invest in their business and communities. 

There is also the impact of global warming that we need to consider on the coffee growers. Climate change will affect the conditions in which their coffee is growing and might result in less yield or different tasting coffee. This in turn affects how much coffee they can sell and whether in fact they can grow it.  On this trajectory there are estimates that we might not have coffee at all in 10 years time! Coffee farmers might give up growing it or the conditions might not allow it! So it’s important that we pay more for our coffee and ensure the farmers business is sustainable.

What are some of the stories you’ve encountered since you started? And how does Manumit help?

All of the stories we have come across are really upsetting. We have employed people who were trafficked in Africa and sent to the UK for safety once they were rescued; people who were forced to walk from Asia to the UK at 13 years old and then forced to work in the cannabis industry; women who were tricked into jobs as ‘nannies’ in the UK and forced to work in brothels for years; men who were trafficked to the UK & forced to work in normal factories, but their traffickers didn’t let them have access to their own bank accounts, and so they never actually saw any of the legitimate money they were earning and were instead locked in basements and abused.

The stories are so diverse, yet so similar in the way that they are surrounded by exploitation and a complete disregard and disrespect for the value of human life. Manumit helps people move forward, by providing them a safe place to work and enjoy working again. After having been exploited for a long time, it takes a while for them to be ready to work again. For one lady, after she was rescued from trafficking, it was 5 years before she felt ready to work again. We began by employing her for 4 hours a week because that’s all that she could handle mentally.

We teach them skills like coffee roasting, barista and brewing skills, and shipping and packaging. But we also teach soft skills that they need, like confidence building, how to interact in a team and with employers, turning up to work on time, work ethic, how to deal with a panic attack at work and how to get through an 8 hour day. Some people work for us for 3 months, others have worked for us for 2 years. During which we help them to build their cv, prepare for interviews and apply for jobs they are interested in. One of our ladies started working for us and hated people, after 6 months we were helping her apply for jobs and university degrees in HR! It’s amazing what a bit of extra support can do.

Do you ever get frustrated by a lack of response to the reality of human trafficking?

I do get frustrated at the lack of the response to human trafficking; the fact that people still don’t realise it’s going on around us, or when we talk about employing survivors of trafficking or slavery, people say comments like ‘we are all slaves to the system’ and laugh, or assume it is in another country. They don’t realise that there are hundreds of survivors of slavery living in Cardiff, right around them. Moreover, there are people in Cardiff trapped in horrendous working conditions right under their nose. The youngest person reported to be trafficked in Wales was 18 months, and that was this year.

It’s not really spoken about enough in the media, although this is improving. But I think part of it is our privilege. In general, we, especially myself (being white, British), have benefitted from slavery for centuries, and we don’t even realise it. And when we do realise it, we don’t want to give up that privilege or deal with the consequences. People are under the impression it doesn’t directly affect them or their children in the way that environmental issues do. People are worried about there not being a planet for their grandchildren if we don’t change our attitude to environmental issues, but there is not the same urgency with human trafficking

What keeps you going?

First of all is my love for people, which I would say comes out of my Christian faith. I believe God cares deeply for everyone in the world and He has given me a deep compassion for people around me. In particular, as Christians we should care for extremely vulnerable people or those who have been through unimaginable circumstances. We should use our privilege to support and empower them. 

My job role keeps me going in the fact that we get to give these people experience, training and support and leverage to create an amazing future for themselves. Being able to support farmers globally and do business consciously and differently means so much to me, and feeding our profits back into antislavery projects makes it that full circle. Knowing that I am using my skills and being challenged to do something so meaningful gives me a lot of job satisfaction, and it helps that I LOVE coffee! 

Not everyone is going to start their own coffee business – what everyday actions can people take to help end human trafficking?

Everyone can fight slavery in your day-to-day life. This might include learning to spot the signs of slavery. For example: be alert in your day job. Maybe you work in construction and some of the people working with you have suspicious living conditions, or they all get driven home together in the back of a van, or work extremely long hours with not enough pay or safety equipment. Or perhaps you work in a hospital and the person you are supporting is not allowed to speak for themselves – they have someone acting as a ‘friend’ or ‘family’ member who is extremely controlling. If you work in a bank, someone trafficked might have someone speaking on their behalf setting up them a ‘bank account’, which they will never gain access to.

Does your business have a modern slavery statement? It is a legal requirement to say what you are doing to tackle modern slavery in large businesses, ask your management team. What about your works supply chain? Or your favourite product’s supply chain? Put pressure on businesses to do something about it or to be transparent and they will have to act!

Stay alert in nail bars, car washes, hair salons and factories, pay attention to the working conditions and costs. Think about airports, shops, factories, cafes, food banks, schools, social work… 

Contact the antislavery hotline, which collects all information and passes it onto relevant services to build up a big picture/jigsaw puzzle. No piece of information is too small! 08000 121 700

Support businesses fighting slavery – Tony’s Chocolonely, Know the Origin, Manumit, Refuge Chocolate, Blue Bear Coffee. 

Donate, sign petitions, get involved in anti-slavery day, raise awareness in your work place, share things on social media, talk to your local MPs about what the government is doing about it.

Where can we find Manumit coffee?

You can find manumit coffee on our website www.manumitcoffee.co.uk! We are stocked in a lot of random small businesses, office spaces, cafes and churches across the UK. We have also recently launched our coffee completely packaging free in some zero waste shops, which is amazing!

If you are interested in purchasing our coffee in bulk for your event, church, business or cafe, you can contact me on hello@manumitcoffee.co.uk.