EBWU Conference - Lisbon, Portugal - 10-13 October 2024

FREESET – in business for freedomSynnove G. AngenSynnove G. Angen


Freeset is a fair trade business offering employment to women trapped in Kolkata's sex trade. Freeset makes quality jutebags and organic cotton t-shirts, but their main goal is to be a business for freedom.

I learned about Freesets history when I attended BWA Centenary Congress in Birmingham in 2005. We were given conference bags made at Freeset factory and we were told the story of Annie and Kenny Hilton who left New Zealand with their children, to work and live among the poor in Kolkata. Without being aware of it, they moved into the largest red light area in the city, Sonagacchi. Their new neighbours were thousands of women forced into prostitution by trafficking and poverty. Hiltons understood that they needed to make a business alternative in order to bring real freedom for these women. That is how Freeset started!

(You can read more about the Freeset history on www.freesetglobal.com).

When I came back to Norway, I could not forget this history, it just went on and on in my head! And I asked myself “Why cant you do something for these women?” and after a while (2006) I started importing Freesetbags to Norway in cooperation with The Norwegain Baptist Womens Union.

Synnove telling the other distributors about her first meeting with the Freeset story. Synnove telling the other distributors about her first meeting with the Freeset story.

In March this year I finally got the opportunity to visit Freeset in Kolkata India, together with NBWU's Committee member Jorunn Haraune, on the factory's first distributor conference ever! It was encouraging to meet distributors from the USA, New Zealand and England and to hear what a great work they do by selling Freeset products. BUT the most wonderful thing was meeting the women who used to be trapped in the sex industry but no are set free by working on the Freeset factory!

Shoes owned by the former prostitute women. (We were not allowed to take pictures of the Freeset women.) Shoes owned by the former prostitute women. (We were not allowed to take pictures of the Freeset women.)

Some of the women told us their stories about living a life without family and friends. From a young age, their self-esteem is non-existent because they have become a consumable item given away or abandoned by their loved ones. One woman told us that “We WORK here, but Kerry and Annie are our MOM and DAD. They love their own children and they love the girls as well!” They have got a new family, the FREESET FAMILY. The women also feel that they are respected in the society because they are working at Freeset.

Before they take in new girls working in the factory, they have to go to a three months training period. They go through skills training, literacy training, trauma deeling, budgeting classes, economy help/ freedom loans, addiction help and other issues relating to a new way of living. Freeset are giving the girls a choice, a choice giving them a life in freedom!

At the moment 202 women are working at the Freeset factory.


      There in Sonagachi is business of harm, here it is business of freedom.

There are an estimated 3 million working as prostituted in India and that 1.2 of the sex workers are under the age of 18. On Wikipedia we can read that the total number of prostitutes in Kolkata is unknown. Some estimates state that there are more than 6,000 brothel-based women and girls in prostitution in Kolkata. In the neighbourhood of Freeset there are about 10.000 sex workers. The population of prostitutes in Sonagachi constitutes mainly of Nepalese, Indians and Bangladeshis. According to some sources the most common form of trafficking consists in offering false promises or some offer of help out of a dead-end or crisis situation, force is used later after the prostitutes have already been sold. "Mashis (brothel owners/older sex workers) use friendship, sympathy, also veiled threats to convince the women that it is now in their best interest to conform and begin working.”

Synnove G Angen, Norway

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