Freedom through coffee – Manumit urges businesses to think about modern slavery

Freedom through coffee – Manumit urges businesses to think about modern slavery

Manumit Coffee Roasters, the not-for-profit Cardiff-based business helping survivors of modern slavery rebuild their lives, is celebrating its first year of trade by urging operators to actively invest in anti-slavery projects and boost their ethical status into the bargain.

Only half of organisations currently comply with the UK Modern Slavery Act, which was introduced in 2015 to encourage large companies to produce a slavery and human trafficking statement each year, thereby forcing them to evaluate their supply chain. But Manumit hopes that smaller businesses will get on board and commit to supporting anti-slavery initiatives.

“Producing a modern slavery statement is a good selling point for any business and it shows that a company has checked its supply chain,” said Esther Gibbs, strategic operations manager at Manumit.

Manumit is not only committed to ethically sourcing its coffee but also provides training - thanks to the Specialty Coffee Association and trainer Emma Haines - and employment at its Cardiff roastery to people who have suffered “horrendous exploitation” at the hands of traffickers and modern slave traders.

“Selling 20kgs of coffee allows us to give another person a 4-5 hour shift. These are people who can’t go back into full-time work, but through support we can help them build up their confidence and mental health, and relieve the pressure that can come with a too rigid regime,” explained Gibbs.

In its first year, Manumit trained up 11 survivors to become baristas and currently has two survivors employed in the roastery. It sells its coffee to local cafes, businesses and even churches and is currently roasting 70kg a week, but has the capacity to increase this to 200kg.

Adrian Campbell-Howard, founder and managing director of the Bristol-based Society Café said he was having conversations with Manumit, after hearing about the company’s achievements at European Coffee Expo Conference, sponsored by WMF and Schaerer, in May.

“I don’t know much about the Modern Slavery Act but my inclination is that it’s right to have a supplier who is committed to direct trade. It’s the reason we chose to work with Origin. Everything we do, we try to do in the right way, from hiring staff through to our suppliers.

“When you come across people who need help and see people doing their bit, work becomes a passion and it’s something that we would want to become part of in some way.”

Large companies, with an annual turnover of £36m or more, must produce a Modern Slavery Statement, under Section 54 of the UK Modern Slavery Act. Currently 5,543 companies from 71 industries have registered, including Pret A Manger, coffee vending and service company Selecta, JD Wetherspoon, Whitbread (owners of Costa) and Patisserie Holdings (owners of Patisserie Valerie).

However, according to the latest figures half of the UK’s large businesses are non-compliant, reported the TISCReport, an open data resource that provides tools to help companies check supplier lists and draft statements. Even among those firms which have registered, only 19% fully meet the minimum requirements set out in the act.

Penalties for non-compliance, including “unlimited fines”, are seen as a last resort with the hope that pressure will come from consumers, investors and non-governmental organisations.


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