A Future Full of Hope and Healing
Making Austin Slave-Free: A Discussion with Allies Against Slavery
Come out tonight for our last First Friday Block Party benefiting our community partner Allies Against Slavery. To get a better idea of the work Allies Against Slavery does to make Austin a slave-free city, we spoke with their Community Engagement Coordinator Jordan Ring, about the things we can all do to combat modern-day slavery.
Ring first learned about human trafficking while she was living in Louisiana and researching the use of systematic rape during the Bosnian War. “Rape was used as a tool of war; it’s the first time rape was recognized as a war crime,” she said. When Ring learned that human trafficking remained a present-day issue, she began to search for ways to take action against it and discovered Allies Against Slavery.
“I was looking at human trafficking through the lens of Bosnia; I was looking into it as a post war thing,” she said, “A friend told me that human trafficking was happening here – not only in the United States but in Louisiana, in Shreveport. I felt like I had a responsibility to my family, to my neighbors to become aware of this. I moved to Austin in January in 2014 and I went to my first Allies meeting in February, 2014, so my timing was very strategic.”
Allies Against Slavery works with groups across Austin to help raise awareness of human trafficking, spread support for survivors and form definitions of what human trafficking looks like in Austin for each at-risk population. Once Allies defines the characteristics of a certain population at risk of human trafficking, they then design programs that work to identify potential victims and lower the risk of individuals being targeted for trafficking.
“Understanding what identifies a population at risk of human trafficking increases the chances of discovery and police intervention,” Ring said. “In October we petitioned City Council to get them to ensure that ending human trafficking remains a priority in Austin. I work to mobilize the community of Austin; in Austin we actually have one of the largest rates of human trafficking in Texas. Allies works to create a community where survivors can access the things that they need to truly heal. There’s hope here, people believe Austin has potential to be a slave free city. I think the true fight of making Austin a slave free city is in the day to day – rethinking our roles as neighbors, rethinking our roles as consumers.”
Cheap, industrial food often comes with a high price – in an effort to reduce the cost of labor, migrant workers are recruited, exploited and paid incredibly low-wages. Debt bondage is the most common system of cheap labor and human trafficking within the U.S.’s industrial food system.
“There is a lot of exploitation within the food system,” Ring said. “Migrant farmers are brought to farms out in the middle of nowhere with 10-15 guys living in a single bedroom trailer having to pay $1000 rent each month per person. They are charged for their rent, for their meals, and if they come up short on paying back either they go further into debt. They have no means of communicating with the outside world.”
Migrant workers harvest the majority of produce found at fast food restaurants and in big chain grocery stores in the U.S..
“We as a consumers in America always want more for less, and we don’t question the chain of people attached to each product we purchase,” Ring said. “Businesses are always looking to offer competitive prices on products. They tend to cut on the labor side; what that typically does is create a market for slave labor and debt bondage.”
Wage slavery and exploitation are common in the production of many kitchen staples – including sugar, coffee and chocolate. To guarantee that their food is from ethical, slave-free sources, consumers have to take the responsibility to ask where their food comes from or shop at stores like in.gredients that investigate and approve the source of each of their products.
“What we can do is shop local and ask about supply chains,” Ring said. “As consumers we have a lot of power. If you want to live in a slave free city, you should be aware of where your food and clothes come from; and that starts with a conversation at the store, with the manager or owner.”
Allies Against Slavery’s annual gathering, the Slave Free City Summit, is happening later this month at the For the City Center on April 22-23.
“The Summit is a way for us to connect with other passionate abolitionists in Austin,” Ring said. “We are going to discuss how our history influences the landscape of Austin today. We as a community have to understand the nuances of the issue. We are also going to talk about survivor leadership, which is always really powerful. I am really proud of the people helping organize this event.”
In addition to the Slave Free City Summit, there are many ways to get involved in Allies Against Slavery’s work to make Austin a slave-free city, including attending their monthly meetings, coming to our First Friday Block Party where a percentage of the night’s proceeds are donated to our Community Partner, and bringing your own container when you shop at in.gredients. For the month of April, we are doubling the amount we donate to our Community Partner each time customers bring in their own containers.
“There are ethical alternatives we can begin to invest in as a community right now,” Ring said. “People have to rethink what community engagement looks like. Human trafficking is happening here in Austin, but it doesn’t have to. The end of the story can be full of hope and healing, and we contribute to this story, as neighbors, as consumers, as members of this community.”
As we wrap up our inspiring partnership with Allies Against Slavery, lookout for the chance to vote for our next Community Partner later this month.