Even though slavery was abolished by most countries more than 150 years ago, modern slavery is still thriving across the world, with up to 13000 individuals estimated to be victims of human trafficking in the UK alone. Determined to tackle the complex issues surrounding modern slavery, Cardiff-based entrepreneur Esther Gibbs set-up Manumit Cofee with the aim of offering emotional support, training and employment to people who have suffered exploitation and are trying to develop a normal life away from slavery. Manumit coffee is ethically sourced from slavery free suppliers, and their profits are invested in local and international anti-slavery projects.
Esther welcomed us at Manumit HQ and gave us an insight into her role at Manumit and what goes on behind the scenes at the roastery, and talked to us about modern slavery, transparent coffee trading and how to use great tasting coffee as an effective tool to fight exploitation. Their wonderfully fresh and flavoursome product is definitely a must-try for coffee lovers, and buying Manumit coffee represents a small but vitally important act that helps the team to continue to offer dignity and hope for survivors of exploitation and to break the chains of slavery. Together, they are providing “Freedom Through Coffee”.
Esther, can you tell us a bit about your background?
I found out about human trafficking when I was 15 and I was just so outraged about knowing that there were 27 million people trapped in slavery (at that time) ‒ thinking about how each of those people (even children) are a human being, with just as many feelings as us ‒ imagining what they are going through just upset me so much. I knew I wanted to spend my life fighting it. From this point I did everything I could to do something about it ‒ sign petitions, do awareness events, volunteering, sending donations (money and other things) ‒ people around me used to call me slavery girl because it’s all I would talk about! A couple of years later I was in Soho London, where I was thinking about the women working in the sex industry and thinking if they wanted to get out of that industry, what would they put on their CV? Surely there would be a lot of questionable blank spaces ‒ so I had the idea/dream of setting up a cafe that would train these people to be baristas and give them work experience (I was working in a cafe as my ‘Saturday job’).
From then on, I was very keen to do whatever I could moving forwards to get involved ‒ I did an internship in Plymouth working with vulnerable adults with addictions, I went and volunteered in Cambodia in a social enterprise cafe that trained and hired women vulnerable to trafficking or who had been trafficked, and raised money for other anti-trafficking projects. I also volunteered in San Francisco with San Francisco City Impact working with extremely vulnerable people, especially women, and also spent some time interning at Fair Trade USA learning about supply chains etc…
I went to university and studied anthropology and cultural studies and focused on supply chains and migration wherever I could, and on the side I did a Professional Certificate in Tackling Human Trafficking with the International Centre for Parliamentary Studies and also a certificate in ‘Ending Slavery: Strategies for Contemporary Global Abolition’ with Nottingham University. On the side I was working with Brighton night shelter, coordinating the night shelter during the winter and being a leader in the regular meals for the local vulnerable community, and volunteered for Yada, an organisation working with Sex Workers in the South East UK. And separate to that I ran a campaign with Tearfund whilst doing their ‘emerging influencers course’ which tried to make cafe Nero go fairtrade ‒ and failed!
How did your career unfold up until the point where you are now?
All of the above came together in the job that is Manumit Coffee! My passions, experiences, skills and dreams kind of evolved into my job now as a director and only full time staff member at Manumit Coffee. Since this new role in coffee, I have had the opportunity to work with and be really supported by the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) to become an AST (associated SCA Trainer) in barista skills and learn so much, which means I am now able to train people to become certified baristas with globally recognised certifications! And another big help has been being mentored by amazing people like Emma Haines! I have had so many opportunities to grow in my knowledge and experience of coffee and the industry along with how to run a business. I feel really lucky to have ‘peaked’ in my career so young ‒ but I know I have so much more to learn and so much more space to grow.
Tell us about the inception of Manumit. How did it all start and what inspired you to embark on this journey?
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 into 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); embraces befriending projects, providing friendships to survivors of trafficking to help them integrate in the local community and prevent retrafficking.
Out of this project, we realised that there was a need to create a safe space for people to get back into work ‒ we were noticing that when people were getting the right to work (asylum seekers are not allowed to work in the UK until they are granted ‘leave to remain’ and become refugees) ‒ these people coming out of trafficking were either not being able to get jobs due to the gaps on their CV/empty CV, or being fired or quitting within one week because they couldn’t handle the 9-5 jobs or going back into work. So Manumit was formed! A coffee roastery (not cafe for safety reasons) ‒ as a safe space for these people to get back into work, grow in confidence and gain hard and soft skills, we pay them the living wage, and provide good and slavery free coffee to our customers as well ‒ and our staff love working because the profit made off the projects go to anti-slavery projects which means they are working to support other people who have been through the same thing as them.
Awareness of modern slavery is now high in the developed world, but is there actually a substantial reduction taking place in the amount of slavery around the world? Can you give us an insight into the realities of this global issue?
There is not really any improvement on the issue ‒ if anything, the data looks like it is consistently increasing. When I found out about slavery about 10 years ago, they estimated there were 27 million slaves worldwide, now they reckon it is at least 45.8 million, which equates to 1 in 200 people worldwide being trapped in slavery. And also ‒ for example, in the UK, the amount of cases being put through the NRM (national referral mechanism), and then being recognised as victims of modern slavery is increasing, does that mean the problem is
getting worse, or that people are getting better at identifying it and police are making stronger cases and being able to rescue more people? People are more aware of modern slavery now and there have been reports at huge increases in reports of modern slavery to the modern slavery helpline in the last year. But it is indeed a huge problem ‒ the youngest person reported to be trafficked in Wales was 18 months old.
There are people being trafficked in our own country in the cannabis industry, construction industry, being forced to work in factories, but having bank accounts set up for them that they never have access to and their traffickers take all the pay; they are being trafficked into the sex industry after coming to the country following a ‘legit’ job offer, or working in farming, nail-bars, car wash, as maids, child care, etc. etc... and they are often abused, tortured, underfed, malnourished, some people even being trafficked and then being forced to sign up for benefits/food bank and not actually receiving any of it. Young people being groomed into relationships and then being forced into prostitution, or young asylum seekers being kidnapped and then being forced to beg. Or the county line gangs which are forcing young people to traffick and sell drugs around the country against their will with coercement and heavy threats.
Globally, it is an issue that some businesses are trying to tackle, specialty coffee for example is trying to improve traceability and increase the money paid for the coffee so that farmers earn well and have good living conditions. People like Tony’s Chocolonely are going into communities which have a reputation of slavery to buy their cocoa and directly tackle the
slavery and build sustainable infrastructure at the same time. Other industries that have extreme problems with slavery and child labour is fishing industry ‒ especially in places like the coast of Thailand for shrimps! Or child mining for metals used in our phones (cobalt etc.), and blood diamonds and gold, where people are being exploited to mine
some of the most expensive materials in the world! Places where the profit or bottom line is more important than people will always leave vulnerable people exploited. Every business has the potential to exploit people and have slavery in their supply chain or business.
Other problems for larger businesses is genuine traceability ‒ for example Walmart/Asda has over 400,000 suppliers around the world, and how could you ever check on that or regulate it? You would need thousands of staff to do thousands of checks per year and trust that the
inspections were real, transparent and an honest representation of what happens the rest of the time the inspectors aren’t there, and also that the factories are not outsourcing stuff elsewhere too! However, Walmart has managed to create a block chain for their romaine lettuce in America; after hundreds of people died from infected romaine lettuce, they have created a barcode that you can scan for the single bag of romaine lettuce that will track every step of the journey, back to the exact farm and batch it was grown in. Surely if they can do this for romaine lettuce, with enough demand they could do this for all of their products in their supply chain to see exactly the journey they have been on?
We need to not only demand traceability, but actually be willing to pay the proper costs for stuff too ‒ like we need to face that £2 for a t-shirt is not really covering the costs for all the materials, environmental responsibility, transport and wages involved! Some governments too use child labour ‒ for example, Uzbekistan was using child labour (during school hours!) to take children out of school and pick cotton for free, which was then being exported and used by suppliers like Primark (even when they were claiming their supply chain was slavery free!), even though Uzbekistan has severe problems with adult unemployment!
The UN estimates that modern slavery generates $150bn of revenue, the second largest illegal industry behind drugs, and yet the problem hasn’t garnered the kind of widespread attention that other issues like the environment have. Can you tell us why that is?
I think some of the issues are:
a) it will cost the businesses money and time and so much effort to guarantee their products are slavery free and maintain that;
b) we are completely disconnected to where our products come from or who makes our products;
c) products will become more expensive;
d) people don’t want to report places or don’t know how to ‒ perhaps they get a good deal for their car wash or getting their nails done and so they don’t want to report it!
e) emotional labour of caring about this issue is so high ‒ and there is so much rubbish going on in our world;
f) sexism comes into it ‒ often men think it’s a ‘female’ issue so they don’t necessarily care about it, which is funny because in reality 40% of trafficked people are men/boys;
h) the traffickers are clever ‒ there are really easy ways to hide evidence or change/impact a police case;
i) it is hidden in plain sight ‒ people don’t see it going on around them, unless they know about it!
j) governments not doing enough to tackle it or raise awareness about it or motivate people to report it;
k) generally around the world only 1% of traffickers are ever prosecuted!
l) privilege ‒ in general, we, especially as white people, have benefitted from slavery for centuries, and we don’t even realise it ‒ and we don’t want to give up that privilege or deal with the consequences;
m) people feel like there is nothing they can do to help ‒ it’s not like you can just ‘buy a metal straw’ or ‘do some recycling’ to solve the problem or feel like you are!
n) bad portrayal of immigrants;
o) slavery doesn’t directly affect people or their children (so they think) in the way that environmental issues do ‒ for example, 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 are some of the biggest issues surrounding the coffee industry at the moment?
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 the coffee at below the price of the cost of production, which means that farmers have to cover the rest of the cost of coffee out of their own pockets ‒ meaning they are essentially paying for us to have coffee and for companies to have it at a price where they can make more profit/sell it cheaper/make more sales. Does that mean coffee is slavery free? Surely at this low price it cannot be ‒ because the cost of production includes labour costs etc.
We need to make sure that we are not only paying coffee farmers the cost of production, or not only the cost of living, but enough for them to make a profit on top of that so they can buy what they need, save and 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 mean less yield/different tasting coffee, and may affect how much coffee they can sell, and whether in fact they can grow it at all. With all this in mind, on this trajectory there are estimates that we might not have coffee at all in 10 years time! Coffee farmers might have given up growing it, or it might mean that the conditions might no longer allow it! So it is important that we pay more for our coffee and ensure the farmers business is sustainable.
Could you give us some insight into your role at Manumit and what goes on behind the scenes at the roastery?
My role as director of Manumit Coffee kind of covers all parts of running the business ‒ from dealing with all the boring things (for me anyway!) like admin, replying to emails, ordering stock, numbers, through to social media, PR and events, and taking orders, running the online store & shipping orders and running to and from the post office, as well as barista training and training the coffee roasters and overseeing the shifts when our roasters are working too, as well as some pastoral support whenever the roasters need it (the only thing I don’t really do is pay cheques and sending the final invoices!)
A general day for me would be: arrive and 8am and eat my breakfast and have a coffee to start the day. The roasters arrive at 9am and we roast for a few hours in the morning and then have a delicious lunch from a local food truck or share our brought in food! And catch up about life. Then we spend the afternoon packing the coffee up into the bags or grinding it, and then the roasters go home about 5pm. Once I have closed up I will go to the post office/drop off point for the shipments and deliver any parcels locally in Cardiff too. Wednesdays are our busiest days, where the other directors are in the roastery too and we normally have 2 staff on ‒ it’s so energising and full of laughter! (and of course, well caffeinated!)
The reality that you don’t see is the frustration along the way of teaching the roasters soft skills that might seem obvious ‒ for example, I have dozens of times where staff have called in sick on the day, or requested shift changes to go shopping (!), general sassiness, along with other deeply sad symptoms of trauma that have come out of their experience with trafficking ‒ like panic attacks, forgetfulness, intense conversations, depression, tiredness from having nightmares and not sleeping properly… It is a lot of hard work, but so worth it seeing progress in the long run and their confidence growing!
What are the best strategies to communicate the realities of modern slavery in ways simple enough to grab people’s attention?
It’s really difficult because stories have most impact on people ‒ especially hearing people’s personal and real stories ‒ but there are difficult issues surrounding that because no-one is obligated to share their story ‒ especially with their face or name attached to it. We have stopped sharing some of our survivors’ stories out of request because it traumatises them
so much to retell it, or they want to put it behind them. And there are case studies where people have done interviews and had their stories put online, and then they change their mind and then the story cannot be removed from the internet! (which is also why we never share our roasters’ real names or pictures that are identifiable, especially we never post faces!)
Short educational videos recreating stories are popular, however these can be found on websites like Unseen. Creatively presented statistics can be quite eye opening. Use of artwork ‒ for example, we did an event to raise awareness about modern slavery by putting on an art exhibitions using coffee sacks as the canvas about modern slavery today which attracted hundreds of people and was incredibly moving. Or Red Community do ‘Paint the Town Red’ where they literally get people to hand out red things all day (red cup cakes, sweets etc.) and tell people about modern slavery and they gave out skittles in Cardiff city centre last year with stickers on them with a barcode saying “45.8 million slaves in the world today” to raise awareness, which was quite a simple and powerful way to share about slavery.
How can ordinary people help the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking and support initiatives like Manumit?
You can fight slavery in your day to day life ‒ which might include learning to spot the signs of slavery ‒ how do you identify someone who is in slavery? How could you do this in your day- to-day life? For example your day job ‒ maybe you work in construction and some of the people working with you have suspicious living conditions, or get driven home all together in the back of a van, or work extremely long hours with not enough pay or safety equipment. Or perhaps you are working in the hospital and the person who is in need is not allowed to speak for themselves ‒ they have someone acting as a ‘friend’ or ‘family’ member and they seem extremely controlling... Or going to massage parlours, nail bars, car washes and the working conditions and costs are sub-par, or working in a bank ‒ the people might have someone speaking on their behalf setting them up a ‘bank account’ (to which the actual person who is the account holder will never have access to), or in airports, shops, factories, etc. 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
Does your business have a modern slavery statement? Find out if it does ‒ it is a legal requirement to say what you are doing to tackle modern slavery in large businesses. What about your work’s supply chain? Or your favourite product supply chain? Put pressure on businesses to do something about it or be transparent and they will have to act! Support businesses fighting slavery ‒ Tony’s Chocolonely, Know the Origin, Manumit, Refuge Chocolate. Donate, sign petitions, get involved in anti-slavery days, raise awareness in
your workplace, share things on social media, talk to your local MPs about what the government is doing about it.
What’s the most meaningful gift you have ever received?
When I was having a really really hard time and my friend turned up at my house with bubble tea ‒ my favourite treat ever! I’ll never forget that day, so thoughtful!
What are three questions you don’t have an answer for?
What’s your favourite ice cream?
Will slavery ever be fully eradicated?
How did Donald Trump and Boris Johnson get into positions of power?!
Why do you do what you do and what makes it all worthwhile to you?
First of all, is my love for people ‒ which I would say that comes out of my Christian faith ‒ I believe God cares deeply for everyone in the world, and it has given me a deep compassion for people around me, especially extremely vulnerable people or those who have been through unimaginable circumstances ‒ we should use our privilege to support and empower them. To give these people some experience, support and leverage to help them create an amazing CV and to encourage them to dream about what is next and get excited for what the future holds!
Also, being able to support farmers globally and do business differently and consciously, means so much to me, and feeding our profits back into antislavery projects makes it a full circle! It is such an amazing feeling knowing I’m using my skills and being challenged to do something so meaningful, I have a lot of job satisfaction. And it helps that I LOVE COFFEE!
What does the future hold for Manumit?
GROW!! ‒ increasing in sales so that our business can grow, and we can hire more people! With this growth we want to be able to offer a larger variety of roles ‒ e.g. delivery driver, warehouse manager, machinery engineer, have pop up coffee shops with baristas. Another idea we have had is to set up an ethical car wash, because there is so much slavery and exploitation in many car washes, especially reported in Wales!
Be able to build up more relationships with coffee farmers in the world and be able to support them well and bring their coffee over to the UK after paying properly for their goods! Partnering with more anti-slavery organisations to support them financially and also be able to train more survivors through that across the UK!