Banzaid and Marketplacers International Ltd, are very pleased to announce that the West Bengal Freedom Businesses project has been approved by the New Zealand Aid Programme for funding support. The contracts have been signed, and we have received the first instalment of Aid Programme funds! This five year project in the Murshidabad District of the West Bengal State of India will establish a Business Incubator programme to initiate business ventures targeted at offering alternative employment to women at risk of being trafficked into the sex trade in Kolkata
The Murshidabad district is an area where sex-trafficking is particularly prevalent. Village poverty results in women being trafficked into the brothels of Kolkata. This joint project between Banzaid and Marketplacers International Ltd will reduce the incidence of trafficking from the district by strengthening the local economy and providing employment opportunities. Manufacturing businesses employing 250+ women will be established and mentored. The provision of advice, counselling and advocacy in areas of health, finances, and rights, will further empower the communities, helping build healthy, stable, economically sound village communities.
An estimated 10,000 sex-workers live and work in the Sonagacchi red light district of Kolkata. Many are trafficked from the surrounding villages of West Bengal and from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal. One solution that addresses the root cause is providing alternative means of income for those wanting to get out of the trade. In 2001, Freeset was founded as a social business offering economic choice to women in Sonagacchi. Since then Freeset Bags and Apparel (FBA) has grown into a medium sized manufacturing business now employing over 200 women in Sonagacchi.
Working with the women of Sonagacchi one of the things they discovered was that a significant number of the women came from Murshidabad. This project puts the ‘fence at the top of the cliff’ by providing a sustainable solution at the source of trafficking - the village. It extends the Freeset model to offer an alternative means of income for those at most threat of trafficking (young women) and their immediate family, including, where appropriate, brothers or fathers.
The core concept is establishing a “Business Incubator” as the hub that will work to establish new business units in the Murshidabad District. The initial five year target is to establish four new business units employing 250+ women from families identified as being at risk of being drawn into sex trafficking. Supporting the Incubator activity will be a training programme to equip the women with employment skills, both at production level and at management level; delivery of community social support services, including counselling services, and community education in areas such as health care, first aid, and basic life skills such as literacy and budgeting; and a community anti-trafficking and trafficking awareness programme. The goal is to see healthy, stable and economically strengthened village communities who value their women and resist the pressure for migration that provides the opportunity for the traffickers.
The first of these new businesses will be Freeset Fabrics. Freeset Fabrics has been set up to revive the traditional craft of handloom weaving in Murshidabad. The district was once renowned for silk and cotton handloom fabrics. This business will target young women from poor families who are at risk of being trafficked into Kolkata. Working with specialist designers they will learn to make products targeted at the markets of Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand. The first looms have already been set up, and the first training programme begun.
Unlike a purely commercial venture that would seek to employ those with the highest skills for the job at minimal expense, the social enterprise businesses set up through this project will specifically target those who are at risk, often with low levels of education, and will offer wages above the national minimum along with training, health care, child care, and superannuation plans.
Freeset has proved that this model can be competitive in the global market. However, due to its primary focus on public good rather than profit for shareholder benefit, it is not a model that attracts commercial financing. In 2014 Banzaid, Marketplacers and Freeset began working together on a proposal to the New Zealand Aid Programme for funding for the first five years of this project. This proposal has now been approved. The NZ Government Aid Programme will contribute Just over half of the budget. Banzaid and our partners will be responsible for the remainder.
Total Budget: NZ$ 2,539,000.
NZ Aid Programme funding: NZ$1,288,856.
Matching funds to be raised by Banzaid, Marketplacers and Freeset: NZ$ 1,250,000.
Start Date: July 2015.