6 Ways We Fight For Freedom in Houston

6 Ways We Fight For Freedom in Houston

This post was featured in Southwest Airline’s blog!

Jasmin

‘Jasmin’ walked up to our table during one of our city outreach events. Intrigued, she cautiously inquired about our organization, United Against Human Trafficking (UAHT). After discovering a bit about us, she shared her own experiences: she had been trafficked.


Jasmin‘s exploitation occurred on and off for years. Using force, fraud, and coercion, her trafficker compelled Jasmin to work without pay as a housecleaner and have sex with strangers for his own profit.

No cages or chains like in the movies – the threat of violence, of withheld food or shelter were more than enough to keep Jasmin trapped.

Still, Jasmin tried to leave. But each time she managed to escape, the man reappeared in her life to derail itThe trauma she experienced, coupled with lack of  support, led a hopeless to Jasmin to becoming dependent on drugs an alcohol to cope.

UAHT’s Outreach team acted quickly. They helped Jasmin navigate the intake process at a local clinic and arranged for transportation – all during a standard tabling event. Now safe, Jasmin is on a journey to recovery from both exploitation and addiction.

And it all started because she felt safe enough with our team to share her story. 

 

United Against Human Trafficking Outreach Event in Houston Community

UAHT’s Outreach Team Acted Quickly

Since 2005, we have assisted and empowered human trafficking victims, survivors, and at-risk persons like JasminOur vision is a world without the trauma Jasmin experienced, with zero tolerance for the buying and selling of human life. We fight so that all may live free. 

UAHT began as a small volunteer coalition in Houston that formed in response to the area’s dire trafficking problem: major highways, thriving trade, proximity to a major border, and a booming sex industry all contribute to the Greater Houston Area’s hotbed of human trafficking.

Today, UAHT is a leader in the Greater Houston Area’s anti-trafficking movement, unifying organizations across the region to develop a strategic approach to ending exploitation for the purposes of sex AND labor.

We collaborate extensively with the Houston Mayor’s Officethe Houston Police Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and other governmental and nongovernmental entities to ensure trafficked persons are treated with the respect and autonomy they deserve.

Our goal at UAHT is to find and fill service gaps in our region. Trafficking victims are all too often hidden in plain sight due to stigma, ignorance, and fear. They often belong to marginalized groups such as the homeless, immigrants/refugees, LGBTQ+, the substance-dependent, the mentally ill, and survivors of domestic/sexual violence, who already face enormous struggles.

We go out into the community to identify these forgotten victims, help in any way we can, and equip them with the tools they need to break free when they’re ready. 

Trafficking victims are often hidden in plain sight due to stigma, ignorance, and fear

How We Fight for Freedom

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How To Change The World With Fair Trade Coffee

How To Change The World With Fair Trade Coffee

It’s Fall y’all! Well…almost. While the weather hasn’t completely reflected the changing of the seasons, everyone is excited to get out their cozy sweaters and enjoy the cooler weather.

Can’t you just smell the hot cocoa and pumpkin spice lattes brewing? This presents another opportunity to encourage fair trade through another one of our favorite products — coffee!

Coffee is one of the most highly demanded products in the West. The coffee industry also has some of the largest concentration of forced and child labor in the world.

The International Labor Organization estimates as many as 250 million children are forced to harvest products for coffee and cocoa.

Consumers have the power to vote for fair trade and treatment of workers by purchasing products from companies employing fair trade and direct trade practices.

Equal Exchange Coffee Beans

equal Exchange

Equal Exchange has a variety of coffee, chocolate, tea, and snacks. Based out of St. Paul, MN, this company pioneers a unique focus toward ethics to empower workers and farmers through fair business practices. 

BLK + Bold Coffee

BLK & Bold 

Another fair-trade coffee retailer you can find in stores like Target and Whole Foods is BLK + Bold. When purchasing these products, you give back to support youth-focused initiatives like teen homelessness and workforce development opportunities. BLK + Bold is based out of Des Moines, IA,!

Pura Vida Coffee

Pura Vida

If you want coffee with the fair-trade certification and organic growing practices, Pura Vida offers the best of both worlds! The Shade Grown coffee products limit the environmental footprint left through production. Pura Vida is based out of Tukwila, WA and supports non-profit organizations dedicated to helping at risk children’s education and health.

Check out The Good Trade to explore more brands! 

Every fair-trade coffee retailer sells online, and some can even deliver to your door! Here’s a challenge for this week: can you purchase a fair-trade coffee product and cast your vote for fair trade practices?

Learn more now, during fair trade month!

In celebration of Fair Trade Month, UAHT is hosting events to encourage viewers to ask questions and learn more about fair trade.

We will be airing a viewing of the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate” on Thursday, October 29th from 6-7:30 PM CST.

This documentary and discussion will feature a guest speaker to answer questions about what fair trade is and how consumers can get more involved in the movement.

We will also be releasing new episodes of Making Justice, including an episode with Equal Exchange.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to learn more information and hear about the impact that fair trade has on others!

We have to know the signs of labor trafficking and exploitation, and we need to be engaged as consumers if we truly want to create a world where all are free. Here’s how you can keep learning:

11 Vital Questions to Ask Yourself At Storefront Shops

11 Vital Questions to Ask Yourself At Storefront Shops

UAHT is producing a five-part series on labor trafficking. Through this blog series, we are providing information and tips to identify labor trafficking! 

Today, we are focusing on how to spot red flags in storefront shops like grocery or clothing stores. 

As a customer, you may spot signs of labor trafficking in stores that you regularly visit. We want you to be equipped with the right questions to ask yourself before you report your suspicions! 

Remember every case of trafficking is different, and there’s no single form. These questions are a guide, not a formula.

Storefront Shops

Staff Behavior Can Indicate Human Labor Trafficking

Staff Behavior

1. How are workers communicating with you?

Do responses seem scripted or limited beyond cultural/language barriers? Workers could be coached on what to say so they do not reveal details about their exploitation. Is another manager or employee watching you when you talk to the worker?  

2. Do workers seem to have no or limited social interactions at their workplace?

Their freedom of communication may be monitored by their trafficker as a means of control.

3. Does a worker not seem to know their work address or the area where the business is located?

Their knowledge of geographic location might be controlled, or they may be moved around frequently, to limit their ability to escape.

4. Do they mention being “on call” for shifts or work long hours a day?

This may be a signal that they aren’t really free to decide when and how much they work, and that the employer has constant ability to demand their labor—to which they can’t say no. While this type of employment isn’t a de facto sign of trafficking—irregular hours are a part of shift labor—if it’s combined with other red flags, it could be a sign.  

 

Store Environment Can Indicate Human Labor Trafficking

Store Environment

5. What do the working conditions seem like?

Do workers seem to have little to no breaks, excessive hours, and/or harsh working conditions? Do employers/managers seem to treat them well? 

6. Are there any safety hazards?

This may look like blocked or unlabeled safety exits, stock storage that seems unsafe or unstable in the work area, uneven pathways around the store that could trip someone, etc. If a workplace reflects an attitude of not caring about the physical safety of employees, the owners might be harming them in other, less visible ways.  

7. Are goods produced on-site?

If so, you should be able to ask the crafter themselves about their work. If they seem reluctant to speak about it, or display any of the below behavioral signs, take note. This could be a sign of exploitation or trafficking of manufacturers 

 

Control over finances can indicate human labor trafficking

Financial Control

8. Does a worker mention being paid less than your state’s minimum wage?

Contrary to popular belief, some trafficked persons are actually paid for their labor. It’s just that in trafficking cases, they tend to be paid significantly less than is legal, or be forced to give some of their wages back to their traffickers (as “payment” for food, housing, travel costs to the trafficking site if applicable, etc) as a form of forced servitude. In Texas, minimum wage is the same as the federal minimum wage–$7.25 an hour.

Ask Questions to Identify Human Trafficking

Ask Directly

If it is safe and you feel comfortable, you can ask an employee a few questions. Do not force answers. 

You can strike up a casual conversaion:

9. How’d you get this job?

If they mention a romantic partner or family member pressuring them to take it, that could be an indicator. Most traffickers aren’t strangers to the victim; they’re more likely to be people the victim knows directly. It’s a relationship that is being exploited through force, fraud, or coercion, and it’s important to get stereotypes out of our heads when thinking about trafficking.  

10. What made you want to start working here?

Again, if they mention pressure from partners or family members, take notice.  

11. How do you like working here? 

This can give the worker an opening to mention red flags on their own terms—long hours, owing a debt, their employer withholding their identification documents, and so on.  

What to do when you notice red flags of human trafficking

What To Do If You Notice Multiple Red Flags

Now that you have this handy list of signs, here’s what to do if you suspect labor trafficking:

1. Wait until you are off-location

In order to protect yourself and the potential victim from punishment or being moved from the location, wait until you are out-of-sight and out-of-earshot of potential traffickers.

2. Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888

If it has taken place in the Houston area, please contact us at United Against Human Trafficking to report your credible tip. We offer direct services, including case management for victims of human trafficking.

3. Inform others of these red flags, and let them know about the issue.

Spreading awareness is the first step in this journey towards freedom for all, and community members like you are an important part of that step. Spread the word!  

How To Change The World With Fair Trade Chocolate

How To Change The World With Fair Trade Chocolate

Change is in the air and the season for sweet treats everywhere! And what better time to indulge in a universally beloved candy – chocolate. 

Buying Fair Trade Chocolate can prevent child and forced labor

The most popular candies in the U.S., and even around the world, are chocolate. Many of us buy and consume chocolate, but how many of us know how and where it comes from?

Chocolate is largely made up of cacao beans, which is primarily grown in the tropical climates of Western Africa, Asia, and Latin America (World Cocoa Foundation).

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 60% of the world’s cocoa is produced in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana alone, but an estimated 2 million children were found in hazardous working conditions in these two countries.

Purchasing fair trade chocolate can prevent child and forced labor while supporting ethical producers of these products. 

Now is the perfect time to order Fair Trade Chocolate products

Consumers have the power to decide what they want from the market with every purchase, so taking a stand and buying fair trade products is a great way to encourage manufacturers to get their fair trade certifications.

With Halloween decorating our stores and homes, now is the perfect time to order fair trade chocolate products!

The Good Trade features 10 Fair Trade companies perfect for a variety of chocolate lovers! Whether you want darker than dark chocolate or sweet truffles, each brand has something special to offer their consumers.

And for those who want to buy in bulk for trick or treaters or just to indulge your sweet tooth year-round, Equal Exchange Chocolate carries products ranging from hot cocoa and baking mix to chocolate bars and mini treats.

Purchasing products certified as fair trade supports the ethical treatment of farmers and workers to ensure safe working conditions and fair wages. Spread the message with every confection you gift! 

Learn more now, during fair trade month!

In celebration of Fair Trade Month, UAHT is hosting events to encourage viewers to ask questions and learn more about fair trade.

We will be airing a viewing of the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate” on Thursday, October 29th from 6-7:30 PM CST.

This documentary and discussion will feature a guest speaker to answer questions about what fair trade is and how consumers can get more involved in the movement.

We will also be releasing new episodes of Making Justice, including an episode with Equal Exchange.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to learn more information and hear about the impact that fair trade has on others!

We have to know the signs of labor trafficking and exploitation, and we need to be engaged as consumers if we truly want to create a world where all are free. Here’s how you can keep learning:

14 Vital Questions to Ask Yourself At Storefront Services

14 Vital Questions to Ask Yourself At Storefront Services

UAHT is producing a five-part series on labor trafficking. Through this blog series, we are providing information and tips to identify labor trafficking! 

Today, we are focusing on how to spot red flags in storefront services like nail salons, restaurants, massage parlors, spas, and auto repair shops – anywhere that provides a service. 

As a customer, you may spot signs of labor trafficking in stores that you regularly visit. We want you to be equipped with the right questions to ask yourself before you report your suspicions! 

Remember every case of trafficking is different, and there’s no single form. These questions are a guide, not a formula.

Staff Behavior Can Indicate Human Labor Trafficking

Staff Behavior

1. What is communication at the site like?

Who is talking? Do workers appear to be coached on what they say, closely watched when they speak, or seem unwilling or unable to communicate with others?

2. Do you notice signs of physical or emotional abuse?

This can include unexplained bruises, lapses in memory, undue anxiety, appearing malnourished, etc. 

Store Environment Can Indicate Human Labor Trafficking

Store Environment

3. What is the work environment like?

Do you notice dangerous conditions, workers operating equipment without proper safety gear, training, adequate breaks and other protections? 

4. What security measures are in place?

Are there camera monitoring entrances and employees, or unusual security measures (locks activated on the outside of doors, barbed wire facing inwards on a fence, bars on windows, etc)? This could mean that employees are heavily monitored and unable to leave on their own, and are meant to be kept in. 

5. Do they appear to be living in their workplace, or come and go with their employer?

Their living situation and movement could be controlled by a trafficker.  

6. Do you notice small children working?

While children do have labor rights, including the right to work, exceptionally young children or children working in unsafe or inappropriate positions is a red flag for labor exploitation 

7. Does the worker or workplace lack professional licensing?

Places like massage parlors, tattoo parlors, and nail salons are required to have licenses to operate in Texas, and you have the right to ask to see it if you don’t see one displayed.  

8. Do you notice any obvious safety violations?

This could be something you see: open chemical containers, fire hazards, employees working without proper protective gear. It could also be something you notice with other senses: For example, if there is a strong smell of chemicals in a place like a nail salon, that’s a clear indicator that there’s not enough ventilation in the area.  

Control over finances can indicate human labor trafficking

Financial Control

9. Do workers mention owing a debt to their employer?

This is a sign of debt bondage, a common control measure by traffickers.  They also might mention not being paid the wages they were promised by their employer. This is wage theft, and is a clear example of labor exploitation. 

10. Who handles the money?

Are you allowed to tip the person providing the service directly, or does someone in the business make it clear that money is to be handled through another party? What is payment like—is it cash only? Do you see a third party clearly controlling all finances? 

Ask Questions to Identify Human Trafficking

Ask Directly

If it is safe and you feel comfortable, you can ask an employee a few questions. Do not force answers. 

You can strike up a casual conversaion:

11. How’d you get this job?

If they mention a romantic partner or family member pressuring them to take it, that could be an indicator. Most traffickers aren’t strangers to the victim; they’re more likely to be people the victim knows directly. It’s a relationship that is being exploited through force, fraud, or coercion, and it’s important to get stereotypes out of our heads when thinking about trafficking.  

12. What made you want to start working here?

Again, if they mention pressure from partners or family members, take notice.  

13. How do you like working here? 

This can give the worker an opening to mention red flags on their own terms—long hours, owing a debt, their employer withholding their identification documents, and so on.  

What to do when you notice red flags of human trafficking

What To Do If You Notice Multiple Red Flags

Now that you have this handy list of signs, here’s what to do if you suspect labor trafficking:

1. Wait until you are off-location

In order to protect yourself and the potential victim from punishment or being moved from the location, wait until you are out-of-sight and out-of-earshot of potential traffickers.

2. Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888

If it has taken place in the Houston area, please contact us at United Against Human Trafficking to report your credible tip. We offer direct services, including case management for victims of human trafficking.

3. Inform others of these red flags, and let them know about the issue.

Spreading awareness is the first step in this journey towards freedom for all, and community members like you are an important part of that step. Spread the word! 

Finally, continue to watch this space for more on labor trafficking! Our next segment will be focused on storefront shopping. Thank you again for dedicating your time to becoming a more informed consumer, and for your commitment to fight for a world where all can be free.   

Fair Trade Mother’s Day Gift Guide

Fair Trade Mother’s Day Gift Guide

Mother’s Day is coming up! This one may feel a little (or a whole lot) different. It’s harder to see people, and shopping in stores is not an option for mostThe one thing that’s going to remain constant though? Our love for the moms in our life.  

Some of us are celebrating our own mothers; some of us are helping our little ones celebrate our partners. Some are honoring the moms of their found family. No matter what your family structure looks like, it’s a day to show some extra love to the maternal figures in your life! And we’re here to help, with some ethically-sourced gift ideas for you.  

1. A Full Belly and a happy heart

Fair Trade Foods

The way to the heart is through the stomach–what better way to show it than by gifting the maternal figure in your life a meal that will taste good and feel good?

Chocolates are a surefire win for the mom who loves sweets. Local Houston stores like Chocolate Bar and Araya Chocolate are some of our recommendations. You can also check out national brands like Divine, Endangered Species Chocolate, or Tony’s Chocoloney.

If mom’s more of a brunch person, a breakfast in bed (or porch) is sure to make her smile. Check out some fair trade recipes here   

2. Accessories fit for a queen

Fair Trade Jewelry

Give the gift of jewelry to your mother–and the gift of freedom to a survivor of trafficking with these products. These are either made by survivors, or support organizations that combat human trafficking. Most can be ordered online if the physical storefront is closed.  

Noonday Collection is a great source for ethical products supporting a variety of causes. Be sure to check out their accessories collection online 

Another site to shop at for accessories is Trades of Hope. They fight human trafficking, and keep moms with their kids, by providing stable and sustainable work for women artisans across the globe. This Mother’s Day, you can give a gift not just to the maternal figure in your life, but to a mom overcoming difficult circumstances too. 

3. A relaxing space

Fair Trade Scents

Candles and other scented products are a classic for a reason. Check out these ethically sourced products for Mom! 

Elijah Rising’s candles provide employment for survivors of human trafficking, and proceeds help fund long-term comprehensive care for adult survivors. They also offer soaps and other bath products on their website!  Winton and Waits, based in Fort Worth, carries amazing products like rollerball scents, bath products, and scented oil diffusers. 

Meanwhile, Sparrow House Botanicals sells products that are made by survivors of human trafficking. Made with ethically sourced ingredients, these products also help fund aftercare for women who have escaped sex trafficking. They have a variety of botanical products—if you have trouble choosing, they also have convenient gift sets! 

4. Quick Gifts

Available for pick-up or fast delivery

Okay, be honest. We’ve all been there. It’s a few days before the big day, and you only just realized it’s coming up. No gift in mind? No problem! Here are some quick and easy products that you can get in a pinch, without feeling guilty about the rush.  

Lush’s storefronts may be closed, but their online delivery is still going strong! Check out their adorable (and ethical!) Mother’s Day themed products here.  

Fair trade flowers are another Mother’s Day staple. Florists like Sense Ecuador are a great choice. You can also buy from Whole Foods—be sure to look for the Whole Trade marker! 

If she’s a coffee or tea drinker, we have the stores for you. A 2nd Cup is more than a cafe—it fights human trafficking by raising awareness and providing resources to survivors. Their storefront is closed for the time being, but their online shop is still open! In addition to getting coffee and tea, you could also surprise her with a flavor syrup for her daily drink, or a coffee accessory! Numi is also a great vendor for Fair Trade, sustainable organic teas.  

Whether she’s near or far away, you can still show the maternal figures in your life that you care. This Mother’s Day may be very different—but the love we have for the moms around us is never going to change.