Freeset is a Fair Trade sustainable fashion business located in the Sonagacchi district of Kolkata, India, which is the dark heart of the country’s infamous sex trade.
In an area populated by around 10,000 sex workers, most of whom were forced into prostitution against their will because of human trafficking or poverty, Freeset’s goal is to provide a viable alternative for women who wish to leave the sex trade and build independent lives.
Here at Beulah, we want to highlight the important work that Freeset does, how it helps to empower women, and how it provides sex workers with what is often their first real chance to develop the skills that they need to leave the sex industry.
The Freeset Story
Freeset was founded in 2001 by Kerry and Annie Hilton, who emigrated to India from New Zealand in 1999 with the intention of living and working with disadvantaged and poor communities.
After inadvertently signing up for an apartment that soon proved to be located in the centre of the city’s largest red light district, Kerry and Annie realised that their new neighbourhood was home to thousands of women who had been forced into the sex industry by human trafficking and poverty.
Many of the sex workers in the area had been kidnapped or sold into the sex trade at a young age. Others were left with no alternative but to enter the industry if they were to feed themselves and their families.
The Hiltons quickly realised that to support and empower the women that live and work in the Sonagacchi sex district, and provide a choice for women who wanted to leave the industry, there had to be viable alternative employment opportunities available.
However, many of the women working in the Kolkata sex trade had no workplace skills or qualifications that would enable them to seek alternative employment-which meant that provision of both training and meaningful employment opportunities would be necessary to make a difference.
After a significant amount of research, trial and error to determine what type of self – sustainable business model would be able to provide both training and employment opportunities for women Freeset settled upon the production of jute bags for retail export as their product of choice. As the company grew, Freeset later expanded their range to include organic, sustainable fashion cotton T-shirts.
Beginning with twenty women who reached the difficult decision to expand their horizons and trust the fate of their future incomes to a pair of Western strangers, Freeset’s very first employees started work. They began learning the skills necessary to sew retail-quality bags for export.
Progress was slow during the company’s early days, with the daily output per employee averaging less than two bags. But, through a combination of patience, training and encouragement, as well as the implementation of strict quality control measures, Freeset has since grown to a production capability of around 1,000 bags per day. Today, almost 200 women who began their working lives in Kolkata’s sex trade are now well on their way to independence and financial freedom thanks to Freeset.
How Freeset Empowers Women
By gaining training and employment opportunities via Freeset, women from the Kolkata sex trade are given the chance to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation that led them into the sex trade in the first place.
Freeset’s workers are paid at around double the average going rate for the work that they do, and are also supported by a full health insurance and pension package to ensure that Freesets employees can build a viable future for themselves.
The women are employed full-time, and this vital income enables Freeset’s workers to gain not only their own independence from the sex trade, but also to offer opportunities and financial support to their families too.
Additionally, a charitable organisation called The Freeset Trust operates alongside the business itself, providing holistic support to disadvantaged women and their families by means of offering literacy classes, child care services, and vital life skills training in areas such as budgeting and debt management.
Beulah London and Freeset
Beulah London is proud to work with Freeset, providing a retail platform for the company’s hand-made jute bags, produced by local Kolkata women as part of Freeset’s mission to provide training and employment opportunities for women who wish to leave the sex trade.
Our “Bag For Love” range of sustainable fashion bags are produced by Freeset in partnership with Beulah London. Each bag is made by Freeset’s employees in Kolkata, providing a vital stream of income for the business and helping to ensure their ability to continue to employ disadvantaged women.
Freeset’s range of bags-including, of course, our own offerings-have been awarded Fair Trade Guaranteed status by the World Fair Trade Organization, in recognition of Freeset’s commitment to providing fair wages and a healthy, nurturing working environment for their team.
How Can You Support Freeset?
If you want to help end human trafficking and support Freeset’s business and charitable trust in their goal to empower women, you can find out more here.
Image credits: Freeset http://freesetglobal.com/