Taking a stand for freedom

UW-Eau Claire student limits consumerism to fair trade products while working to end human trafficking

Clutching a pair of wool socks and a men’s flannel button up, Kayla Olson browses through the racks at Savers, where she is able to shop without worrying about directly supporting slavery. She has been wearing only secondhand or fair trade clothing for the past six months.

“We are really, as a movement, trying to save as many slaves as we can,” Olson said.

Olson is part of a movement to end human trafficking. She is involved in International Justice Mission and will be working abroad with Youth of the Mission to support survivors of human trafficking.

Fair Trade

Fair trade products are made without the use of forced slave labor. Workers are given a living wage, living working hours and are of legal working age.

Olson’s fair trade commitment started with coffee. She only drinks fair trade coffee, eats fair trade chocolate and wears fair trade clothing. Fair trade coffee is abundant, yet coffee purchased on campus is not fair trade.

“I wish I could have more time, and I would lobby for every single person on this campus to have fair trade coffee and fair trade chocolates on campus,” Olson said.

Next is fair trade makeup and beauty products, which she will purchase from Lush, where all products are made using ethically purchased materials. When her iPhone dies, she hopes to invest in an ethically produced smartphone.  

She doesn’t eat fair trade food because it is hard to find in Eau Claire. While in Nashville, Tenn., at an International Justice Mission leadership conference, she taught some restaurant workers about fair trade food.

“What I usually ask is, ‘Do you know the person who produces this food?,’” Olson said. “If they say yes, we know the farmer, then it is usually fair trade.”

Consuming fair trade products is not limited to only items she purchases. It also includes any gifts she receives.  

“I am not a consumer, but I grew up in a very consumer family,” she said. “So for Christmas I really have to teach my family about fair trade. I’m like, ‘If you don’t buy me something fair trade I will return it. I’m sorry. I don’t want it.”


Leadership Role

Through her position as co-president of the local International Justice Mission, a Christian organization that works to combat human trafficking, Olson has been able to encourage others to join her as a consumer of mainly fair trade products.

Kelsey Holmquist, an International Justice Mission member and social work major, has been influenced by Olson’s passion and convinced by her examples.

“What really got me was when the speaker at the conference said, ‘If everybody stopped buying clothes for a year, we would have no slaves,’” Holmquist said. “And I said, ‘Wow, Kayla, you were right. This fair trade stuff is really important.’”

During an International Justice Mission meeting, Olson had members take the slavery footprint quiz. Holmquist was surprised when she had 12 slaves working to maintain her lifestyle.

“We are supporting this, and we just don’t know because we are so ignorant,” Holmquist said.

Olson’s co-president, Reece Pierson, said Olson has influenced him to purchase fair trade. Most of his clothing, like Olson and Holmquist, is bought second hand.

“That initial price, that goes toward the company, has already been paid by the previous owner,” Pierson said. “So any money you pay, goes to the secondhand store itself.”

The criminal justice major said he learned about human trafficking at a presentation by Harmony Dust, a survivor of sex trafficking, last year. Once he knew about the issue, he said he had to get involved.

“The more I learned, the more I realized I couldn’t really just turn back,” Pierson said.

Passion for service

Her interests in human trafficking came from watching the second Invisible Children film her freshman year. After watching the film, she was insistent on getting to the march in the District of Columbia, but didn’t have access to a car.

“I promised myself, this is what I am gonna do,” Olson said. “I’m gonna go to marches. I always said that if I had lived during the Civil Rights era, I would have been one of those on the line. I am gonna do that for my generation.”

Olson became involved in International Justice Mission her sophomore year. Now in her junior year, she is co-president, sharing the title with Pierson. With the tendency to try to control situations, dreams that Pierson sometimes needs to ground, and a big heart for people, Olson takes her leadership seriously, hosting Bible studies that explore how the teachings relates to working with survivors of sex trafficking.  

She will have to set her control-freak tendencies aside in January, when she leaves for a five-month program through Youth of the Mission. She will spend three months in Las Vegas, a major hub of porn production. She does not know yet exactly what she will be doing while there, or in India, the next destination, but she is embracing the unknown.

“I always wanted to do study abroad, but it was too selfish for me,” Olson said. “I wanted to serve. I need to volunteer and serve.”

In India, Olson said she will participate in prayer walks and work with local women, listening to their stories and offering support. She said she wants to share hope with the women and make sure they know that they are important and loved. She will be trained as a disciple, serving trafficked individuals while also experiencing the world.