Campaign Spotlight: Houston, Texas

Courtney Lang February 21, 2012

This photos was taken at Houston Rescue & Restore Coalition's annual Shop Smart event, part of Human Trafficking Awareness Week in September. Fair Trade vendors from all over Houston came to Ecclesia Church to display their products!

Guest Blogger:  Kendra Penry

The Fair Trade Houston campaign launched in July, 2011, led by Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition (HRRC), a local nonprofit dedicated to combating modern day slavery in all its forms. Recognizing that slave labor touches many of the products people use every day, HRRC wanted to give concerned individuals the tools to combat slavery in their own homes. Two of these tools were identified as being knowledge about where products come from and the recognition that people can “advocate with their dollars” by making different choices for certain products. Fair Trade products were acknowledged as one of the few ways to fulfill these two criteria. In addition to their other benefits, they are one of the only certification systems that prohibit slave labor by upholding rigorous standards for producers and, thus, fulfilled HRRC’s mission to engage the community in the fight against modern-day slavery.

HRRC has raised awareness about Fair Trade products for quite a while through public events such as film screenings and shopping nights. However, more was needed since the movement remained somewhat small. In 2011, HRRC decided to spearhead the Fair Trade Houston movement as a different approach to educating the community about what Fair Trade means and its availability in Houston. This was a particularly daunting task as Houston has over 2 million residents across multiple counties necessitating hundreds of retail locations  to carry at least two fair trade options and hundreds of organizations to commit to using Fair Trade products. But thanks to HRRC and a group of concerned citizens that joined the steering committee, it is steadily growing.

Remarkable Achievement:  200 Retail locations carrying Fair Trade

After five months of research, Fair Trade Houston was delighted to announce that over 200 locations, from small local businesses to large national stores, offer at least two Fair Trade options and this list continues to grow. This was one of the movement’s greatest achievements to date as it made it obvious that Fair Trade items are available to anyone, in any price range, anywhere in the city.

In September 2011, Fair Trade Houston was pleased to host Dr. Michael Conroy, a former board member with Fair Trade USA, as a speaker for the Texas Abolitionist Workshop focused on how to motivate the community to be involved in the movement against exploitation. That same weekend, Dr. Conroy was also the keynote speaker at the second annual Shop Smart event, a shopping night dedicated to raising awareness about Fair Trade through multiple Fair Trade vendors, tastings, and learning opportunities. These along with other fun and innovative events focused on Fair Trade have garnered a lot of attention for the Fair Trade Houston movement and helped it to continue to grow.

Challenges to Overcome:  Commitment from Local Authorities

In spite of these great achievements, there have been quite a few challenges as well. One of the greatest has been getting City Council to pass a Fair Trade resolution in support of the effort. There has been a great deal of hesitation from council members for a variety of reasons, so Fair Trade Houston started a petition on (Sign our petition here!) to raise awareness about the need for this resolution. Almost 1,000 signatures already on the petition prove that people around the world are looking to Houston to set an example of how important it is that every consumer in our society, from each individual to government offices, understands where products are sourced and that those who make the products were fairly compensated. Steering committee members have spoken at city council meetings and at least three council members have expressed interest in sponsoring the resolution. Thanks to these as well as other efforts, there is much hope within the movement that council members will consent to the resolution soon. Additional next steps include finding community organizations willing to use fair trade products, which is already well underway, as is continued media coverage. Fair Trade Houston is determined that Houston will be declared a Fair Trade Town within 2012 making it one of the largest Fair Trade Towns in the U.S.

Upcoming Events:

  • Continually updating the Fair Trade page on the HRRC website,, including information on what is Fair Trade and where to find it in Houston.
  • September is Human Trafficking Awareness Month for Houston and will feature at least one event dedicated solely to raising awareness about Fair Trade.
  • Annual Fair Trade shopping event, Shop Smart, will take place later in 2012 for the holiday season.
  • Additional presentations and events are constantly being updated on the HRRC website, HRRC exists to educate and train the public on the issue of modern day slavery and exploitation so any organization can request a presentation or training on Fair Trade or any other topic related to modern-day slavery or exploitation at anytime through the website.

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Courtney Lang, National Organizer | Fair Trade Campaigns

Courtney Lang brings over 5 years of community organizing to Fair Trade Towns USA, building both the Local Food and Fair Trade networks in Vermont. As Local Food Coordinator with City Market/Onion River Cooperative, Courtney worked with local producers, institutions and consumers to grow the local food system and organize a strategic model for community engagement through farm tours, workshops, and local food challenges. Like many in the Fair Trade industry, Courtney was inspired to take action in Fair Trade when she witnessed child-labor first hand in Costa Rica. As a founding member of Fair Trade Burlington, she has worked with economic development organizations, businesses, and consumers to build awareness of Fair Trade among Vermonters. She also worked with a Fair Trade USA licensee, Vermont Coffee Company, as Friend Ambassador where she united the story of Fair Trade to every purchase of coffee.