Freeset is located in Sonagacchi, the largest, most infamous sex district in Kolkata, India. Within a few square miles more than 10,000 women stand in line selling their bodies to thousands of men who visit daily. Many are trafficked from Bangladesh, Nepal and rural India. For others poverty has left them without options. In India, prostitution is big business and thrives on exploitation and slavery, robbing the poor of dignity and innocence.
In 1999 a family from New Zealand moved to Kolkata to work and live amongst the poor, moving into an apartment in the heart of one of the largest red light areas in the city. They joined several other Kiwis working there, looking for an opportunity to help their new neighbours - thousands of women forced into prostitution by trafficking and poverty. To make a difference that would bring real freedom for these women, they began to understand there needed to be a business alternative. Women could be trained with new skills for a new job and empowered with life-skills needed to appreciate freedom. After experimenting with different products and testing the market, they decided to make jute bags for the export market.
Freeset opened its doors in 2001 with twenty women brave enough to trust a group of foreigners and seize the opportunity to leave the sex trade behind.
It was hard work teaching unskilled women to sew at a quality acceptable for the export market. Some could barely use a pair of scissors and in those early days the average daily output was less than two bags each. These problems have been over-come with training, a lot of patience and quality control systems. While many of the women are still not the fastest sewers, the business now produces around 1000 bags a day. Consistent quality is important for Freeset to be a competitive, self-sustaining business that is able to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation for these women once and for all.
Every woman who finds freedom through Freeset also brings freedom to her family. The women are paid a fair wage for their work, irrespective of their capacity to produce, and as part of their employment package have health insurance and a pension plan. They find hope for a brighter future and the means to make it a reality. As the business has grown, a positive community has emerged calling itself the 'Freeset family.' Today that family consists of more than 200 women who are on their journey to freedom.