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Meet Kendra Penry of Fair Trade Houston

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kendra Penry.

Kendra, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Fair Trade Houston started as a response to the outpouring of concern over the issue of human trafficking in Houston, the US, and the world. Human trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Human trafficking affects every community in the United States across age, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic backgrounds. Most people when learning about this issue want to take action, but there is little that a civilian can do. We cannot rescue victims or prosecute criminals. What we can do, though, is examine how the actions we take and the products we buy either promote the act of trafficking or a solution to it.

Therefore, Fair Trade Houston began as a place for people and organizations committed to a better future could come together to motivate change. Fair Trade is a multi-stakeholder effort to empower consumers to vote with their dollars for sustainable livelihoods, better working conditions, environmental stewardship, and brighter futures for the people who make the high-quality products that we buy every day. It is certified by a third party and can be identified by labels on products we buy every day. It is also one of the only ways we know that our products are free of slave labor. When we purchase Fair Trade, we purchase a product that is free of trafficking and help to establish jobs and programs that protect people from being trafficked in the first place.

However, individuals have little purchasing power on their own. Fair Trade Houston envisioned promoting organizations and even our city taking the step of purchasing Fair Trade because that is where we can affect real change. The members of Fair Trade Houston include representatives of the Dominican Sisters, United Against Human Trafficking, Wholesome Sweeteners, and more. For the past six years, we have been documenting where Fair Trade is available in Houston, developing and leading events to engage our community, and working with the city to develop a policy for purchasing on a city-wide level.

We are proud to report that as of October, 2017, we have officially achieved designation as a Fair Trade City, which means we have achieved the incredible final step of creating a procurement policy signed by the mayor that states that the city will use its best efforts to conduct business with entities that take steps to safeguard against human trafficking, and will urge all contractors to follow labor practices that do not violate human trafficking laws, especially when it comes to engaging recruiters. The city has incorporated the purchase of Fair Trade products into its strategy for delivering on this commitment. We are now officially the first Fair Trade City in Texas and the second largest in the country. Moving forward, we will begin to educate employees on how to identify Fair Trade and why it is important and continue to try to create dynamic events that engage people from around the city in this movement to end trafficking through our purchasing practices.

Has it been a smooth road?
This has not been easy. It has taken years to achieve all the steps to being declared a Fair Trade City. The size of Houston alone was a challenge as we had to document hundreds of locations that sell Fair Trade. Many of our events were carefully planned and executed, but, sadly, were not well attended, which made our work feel underappreciated and sometimes caused a lack of motivation. However, we know this is about more than us. We know we can help create a more just world that values people over profit. We ran into a lot of roadblocks with the procurement policy as well, especially as the administration changed and crafting a policy can be challenging in and of itself. But we knew that with persistence and dedication we could create a real and lasting impact for the people that make our lives possible by growing our food, sewing our clothes, and crafting the products we use every day.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We are not so much a company as a movement for change. We are one part of the national Fair Trade Campaigns organization. Fair Trade Campaigns is a powerful grassroots movement mobilizing thousands of conscious consumers and Fair Trade advocates on campuses and communities across the USA. We are known for getting “regular” people galvanized to make a difference and for doing more than just talking about creating change and instead of giving people concrete steps they can take to make change happen. We are part of a global effort to normalize Fair Trade as an institutional practice and consumer preference across 24 countries and on six continents.

Fair Trade Campaigns currently recognizes cities, towns, colleges, universities, schools, and congregations in the US for embedding Fair Trade practices and principles into policy, as well as the social and intellectual foundations of their communities. We believe this is how we make a global trade system that works for the people, not just for money. This is how we as civilians can create the world we want to see – one where there is equity in trade and opportunities for economically and socially marginalized producers to succeed. Fair trade Campaigns provides tools, resources, and support events to launch and grow local Fair Trade Campaigns in your town, university, school or congregation. Fair Trade Houston is most proud of the fact that we are not just raising awareness about a problem, such as human trafficking, but we are giving people strategies and solutions for addressing it.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Our city is a great place for a movement like this. We have millions of people so the impact of that many people taking action is astronomical. In addition, this is such an international city that this is the perfect place for a movement that is seeking to create change across borders and in spite of them. Our choices here truly affect people all over the world, especially people in the communities that our citizens are from. However, there is more than the city can do. Our city is known for taking a stand for justice – the commitment to fighting trafficking, for instance, has created dozens of nonprofits and a lot of media reporting. But, sadly, it stops there for many people. Words are not enough. We HAVE to take action if we want to see change.

Every purchase we make matters. If we choose the non-Fair Trade banana, then we are saying we are okay that slaves picked our fruit. If we choose the non-Fair Trade coffee, we are saying that we are okay with people in debt bondage being forced to harvest our morning pick-me-up. This isn’t a one time and done. This is a choice we must make every day. In addition, we have a habit of not wanting to participate if it requires us to drive out of the loop or farther than the next community over. Posting on social media about an event is great, but taking a stand and showing up and bringing a friend has a greater impact. If we are willing to drive over an hour to cheer on our baseball team returning with a championship, then we must also be willing to show up for justice.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Betty Malmgren

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