Ladies, you might want to think twice before shopping at Victoria’s Secret.
Bloomberg Markets recently published a report on Burkina Faso, where they spent six weeks investigating how cotton is harvested. Victoria’s Secret usually buys up Burkina Faso’s entire fair trade and organic-certified cotton crop to make the lingerie it sells in the West.
12 And 13-Year-Old Children Laboring In Fields On Pain Of Being Whipped
What they found was shocking: children of 12 and 13, laboring in the fields on pain of being whipped with switches by their bosses the cotton farmers.
Clarisse Kambire’s nightmare rarely changes. It’s daytime. In a field of cotton plants that burst with purple and white flowers, a man in rags towers over her, a stick raised above his head. Then a voice booms, jerking Clarisse from her slumber and making her heart leap. “Get up!”
The man ordering her awake is the same one who haunts the 13-year-old girl’s sleep: Victorien Kamboule, the farmer she labors for in a West African cotton field. Before sunrise on a November morning she rises from the faded plastic mat that serves as her mattress, barely thicker than the cover of a glossy magazine, opens the metal door of her mud hut and sets her almond-shaped eyes on the first day of this season’s harvest.
And here’s how Bloomberg describes Clarisse’s day:
Bending at the waist, Clarisse buries the edge of the blade and starts scraping a deep row into the earth, taking small steps backward with each cut. “It’s very, very hard,” she says, “and he forces me to do it.” Before long, her arms and hips ache. “It’s painful,” she says. When she strikes rocks beneath the soil, it sends the blade cutting into her bare toes. If she slows down from exhaustion, “he comes to beat me,” she says. He whips her across the back with the tree branch and shouts at her. “I cry,” she says, looking down as she speaks and rubbing the calluses on her hands.
Not quite the image of Victoria’s Secret?
Burkina Faso-grown cotton is shipped to India and Sri Lanka, where it is milled into cloth, cut, sewn and finished. From there, finished underwear made of the fair trade organic cotton is shipped to the U.S., where it used to be sold by Victoria’s Secret with hang-tags that read, “Pesticide-free, 100% rain-fed cotton. Good for women.”
How Is This Fair Trade?
The “Fair Trade Certified” label is supposed to let buyers know that the farmers and farm workers in developing nations have received a fair price for their product – also that they encourage sustainable farming methods, limit the use of pesticides, and do not use forced child labor.
What’s going on in Burkina Faso is not fair trade.
Victoria’s Secret’s partners in cotton-sourcing, including the Swiss organization responsible for certifying the cotton and auditing producers, say they have raised concerns about child labor since 2008. Victoria’s Secret says it never saw the relevant report.
An executive for Victoria’s Secret’s parent company says the amount of cotton it buys from Burkina Faso is minimal, but it takes the child-labor allegations seriously.
“Our Standards Specifically Prohibit Child Labor”
“They describe behavior contrary to our company’s values and the code of labor and sourcing standards we require all of our suppliers to meet,” Tammy Roberts Myers, vice president of external communications for Limited Brands Inc., said in a statement. Victoria’s Secret is the largest unit of the Columbus, Ohio-based company.
“Our standards specifically prohibit child labor,” she said. “We are vigorously engaging with stakeholders to fully investigate this matter.”
Please keep us updated on your investigation, Victoria’s Secret. And meanwhile, how about a boycott of their stores?
Photo Credit: BrandsGym