Almost 13 years ago this month we were about to begin Sari Bari: a freedom business that creates modern Kantha products for the western market while providing employment to women who are vulnerable to human trafficking or exploited by the commercial sex trade. The problem was overwhelming due to a never-ending flow of girls being trafficked into Kolkata. The problem as we saw it was overwhelming, a never-ending flow of girls being trafficked into Kolkata. For the women who had already been trafficked into Kolkata’s red light areas---standing in the “the line” (working in the commercial sex trade) for 5-10-15-20 years with no rescue, no options, no way to make the choice for freedom-----options and opportunity were needed. The women we met wanted a way out, they wanted a way to support their families, they wanted dignity and a job they felt would be able to sustain them. In 2006, we took the first step toward what I have come to call “sanding bagging the tide.” The impossible task of seeking to contain a force that comes in waves with no way to actually make it stop. We started a “ freedom business”---a business specifically set up to provide a different choice for women working in the commercial sex trade and economic options as a means of prevention for young women & daughters, who lived in the red light area who wanted something different than the lives their mothers had lived.
Today more than 17 years since we first stepped in the red light areas in Kolkata, India, the tide still comes in; every day new girls appear. Sari Bari employs more than 110 women and, through the years, has impacted hundreds more in Kolkata through prevention and restoration. Still, a new girl is trafficked every eight minutes in India, and it is nothing compared to the daily influx of women and young girls in Sonagacchi, one of the largest red-light areas in Asia, holding strong at 9000 women.
The red light areas have changed in small ways in the last several years. What has not changed is the never ending influx of new girls from Bangladesh, Nepal and the vulnerable villages of West Bengal. However, unlike working in plain sight on “the line,” an increasing number of girls are being trafficked and held in rotating, high-class flats outside the reach of opportunities like ours. The business of human trafficking is not losing in India or globally for that matter, it is a tide and unstoppable force that continues to change the face of the beach, the mountains and the very earth itself.
Human trafficking is a global business earning roughly between 32 Billion (UNDOC Report 2014) “$150 billion a year for human traffickers.” And the real money is coming in for those who exploit for sex. “Human trafficking for sexual exploitation earns 66% of the global profits of human trafficking.” UNDOC trafficking report indicates that approximate two-thirds of trafficking victims are women and the majority of traffickers are men. Recently, West Bengal, the state India where Sari Bari is located, was named the “world’s worst trafficking zone, with more than 500,000 women, including Rohinga girls,” that have been “trafficked from Bangladesh into West Bengal.”
With a majority of girls being trafficked from Bangladesh, they are trafficked through West Bengal to the rest of India where demand for sex with young girls is high and a booming economy is making the sex trade in India “sexier” to the wealthy and easier to access for the poor. Girls continue to be trafficked from within West Bengal itself, “Shakti Vahini, a pan-India anti-trafficking NGO, estimates, out of every ten girls rescued from brothels and red light areas across the country, seven are from Bengal’s North and South 24 Parganas districts.”
As long as there is money to made and vulnerable women and children to be exploited, the tide will continue to come rolling in. As long as there is a lack of economic opportunity for women in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, the tide will continue to come in. As long as the tide comes in there will be a small force of dedicated “Freedom Fighters” attempting to sand bag the tide by creating economic opportunity, alternative employment for women where they live, so that they and the next generation can move beyond poverty and vulnerability and live free.
The tide rises and we continue to attempt to sand bag with our efforts at prevention and restoration via Sari Bari. In 2009 we opened a prevention unit in 24 South Paraganas which is in a high trafficking source area targeted at young women 17+ and mom’s 25-35 who have daughter’s, who would be most vulnerable, with a condition of employment being that their daughters need to staying school. We also continue to employ and offer the choice for something new to women from Kolkata’s red light areas. One woman at a time, freedom and opportunity is being created. In the first quarter of 2019, we will bring in 20-25 will start training at Sari Bari, taking the first steps toward freedom and a new life.
I think it’s possible that one of the most tangible ways to shut down the business of human trafficking is with business. We need more businesses committed to providing job and economic opportunity to women where they live. Eliminating economic vulnerability is a first step (of many) to trafficking prevention. There are many vulnerability factors including gender and political environment, catastrophe, demand, abuse and addiction. I believe globally economic vulnerability is a problem for which we can attempt to create viable solutions. Will you consider with me how we can do this together?
Freedom Business is my sandbag of choice for keeping the tide at bay. The several hundred lives that Sari Bari has impacted compels us to continue this impossible battle we wage against the tide everyday one sandbag at a time.
According to a September 2017 report from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation: ((https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-numbers). )
- An estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. Of these, 16 million (64%) were exploited for labor, 4.8 million (19%) were sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17%) were exploited in state-imposed forced labor.
- Forced labor takes place in many different industries. Of the 16 million trafficking victims exploited for labor
- 5 million (47%) forced labor victims work in construction, manufacturing, mining, or hospitality
- 8 million (24%) forced labor victims are domestic workers
- 7 million (11%) forced labor victims work in agriculture
- 71% of trafficking victims around the world are women and girls and 29% are men and boys.
- 4 million victims (75%) are aged 18 or older, with the number of children under the age of 18 estimated at 5.5 million (25%).
- The Asia-pacific region accounts for the largest number of forced laborers— 15.4 million (62% of the global total). Africa has 5.7 million (23%) followed by Europe and Central Asia with 2.2 million (9%). The Americas account for 1.2 million (5%) and the Arab States account for 1% of all victims.
- Human trafficking does not always involve travel to the destination of exploitation: 2.2 million (14%) of victims of forced labor moved either internally or internationally, while 3.5 million (74%) of victims of sexual exploitation were living outside their country of residence.
- Victims spend an average of 20 months in forced labor, although this varied with different forms of forced labor.
Sarah co-founded, Sari Bari Private Limited, a social business in 2006 in Kolkata, India to give freedom to women from the sex trade through alternative employment. Sari Bari Private Limited currently brings empowerment and freedom to over 110 women in two red light areas and one village trafficking source area.
Sarah is currently the Director of Brand and Strategy at Sari Bari. Her job is to offer love, creativity, vision and direction to the Sari Bari movement and community.
In 2016, Sarah was awarded the Opus Prize for Social Entrepreneurship. She continues to dream for things she may never see, avoiding 5 year plans in favor of a 50 year plan for long term economic empowerment and social change for women in India. She desire’s to be an advocate for HOPE for the women who continue in bondage in the red light areas