Your Thong Is Being Made By Child Laborers

victoria's secret child laborWhich makes it feel less lacy and more awful, doesn’t it?

To be fair, we don’t know exactly where you buy your underwear, but if it’s Victoria’s Secret, then, yes, child labor! Bloomberg reports on Burkina Faso program that deals in cotton, fibers from which are then fashioned into Victoria’s Secret garments:

In Burkina Faso, where child labor is endemic to the production of its chief crop export, paying lucrative premiums for organic and fair-trade cotton has — perversely — created fresh incentives for exploitation. The program has attracted subsistence farmers who say they don’t have the resources to grow fair-trade cotton without violating a central principle of the movement: forcing other people’s children into their fields.

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.

The most disturbing part is almost certainly hearing the testimony from one of the 13 year old child laborers who recounts:

“I’m starting to think about how [the foreman] will shout at me and beat me again,” she said… Preparing the field was even worse. Clarisse helped dig more than 500 rows with only her muscles and a hoe, substituting for the ox and the plow the farmer can’t afford. If she’s slow, Kamboule whips her with a tree branch.

A study conducted by Helvetas in 2008 indicated that hundreds, if not thousands of children, were vulnerable to exploitation in the Burkina Faso program, but Victoria’s secret executives claim they never saw that report. This seems ironic given that in the Victoria’s Secret aim in purchasing from Burkina Faso was to purchase sustainable raw materials and benefit female African farmers. The thongs made from the cotton came with a booklet bearing the slogan “Good for women, good for the children who depend on them.” The “good for children” slogan has since been eliminated.

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    • CarmanK

      This is disgusting. This is like in Nazi Germany, where the children labored in the ammunition factories because their little fingers fit into the bullet casings and made it easier and faster to load the gun powder. Corporate America is spreading its poison all over the world and we the people of the US are paying for this abuse of others. Just how christian does that make US. I for 1 will not give Victoria Secret anything, and I will make sure every girl I know, knows about this atrocity. You sir, are responsible for the conduct of your company.

    • P Rolley

      I was a Victoria’s Secret customer until now. I will not purchase anything from this company again. Child exploitation of any kind should not be taken lightly. Children are supposed to go to school to learn instead of having to work for a living. To support a company that engages in child exploitation, is immoral to me.

    • Rodney North

      We at Equal Exchange, the worker co-op who helped introduce Fair Trade commodities to the U.S. 25 yrs ago, welcome the Bloomberg investigation. It shows that maybe the global Fair Trade certifier, FLO, and the US arm, FairTrade USA, tried to expand too fast. But more importantly its a reminder of the stories behind everyday items we see all around us. What most people never think about is that the sad reality reported by Bloomberg is, in fact, the norm for millions of farmers, and children, around the world. The details vary place to place, and by the crop involved, but the larger truth is that the way the world’s commodities are grown, or mined, and then traded – EVERY DAY, EVERYWHERE – is very often a brutal one that grinds down adults and children alike. This is why the world needs Fair Trade alternative.

      Unfortunately the lesson of the Bloomberg piece could be missed by many readers. The lesson is not so much about this lapse in the Fair Trade certification system (which, by the way, operates in 58 countries and touches 1.2 million farmers and farm workers every year), but rather that:
      – The world’s cotton farmers are normally very poor (and remember that the dirt-poor farmer in this story, Victorien Kamboule, is actually getting above-average prices for his crop.
      – A cultural norm in Burkina Faso (and many countries) is to use forced child labor and not think anything of it.
      – The global cotton, garment and retail trades do nothing about any of this, day after day, year after year.

      So, against that backdrop, one brand, Victoria’s Secret, has been trying to do the right thing, unlike their competitors. And they’re working with the two certification systems, organic & Fair Trade, that are to date leading their fields for reforming the environmental and social methods for how farms operate and how crops are traded.

      Clearly in this case the journalists observed the Fair Trade system falling short of its goals – at least for now. But at least the system is trying to create better conditions for farmers and children alike.

      What will happen next will be one of two things – Mr. Kamboule and the farmer organization, UNPCB, to whom he sells his cotton – will change their ways (the most likely outcome) – OR that group and their 8,000 farmer-members will lose their access to the attractive Fair Trade market. From experience we know that once alerted to the issues they will work hard to set things straight. Too much is at stake to do otherwise. That is part of how the Fair Trade system effects changes in places otherwise impervious to change. In either case the system will – over the longer term – have delivered on its promise to improve conditions and, when necessary, decertify those operations that do not meet the stated goals.

      This does not lessen the tragedy of Clarisse, but it should put her story in a different light. Thanks to Fair Trade her servitude will soon be brought to an end, and, quite possibly, thousands of Burkinabe farmers will finally earn enough to improve their own conditions, and buy the draft animals and plows that will replace children, and a new norm regarding child labor will be propagated (Mr. Simpson says this is already underway). But WITHOUT Fair Trade none of this happens, and thousands of child-laborers like Clarisse keep toiling, year after year after year, with no one ever taking notice. Not the manufacturers, not the shoppers, and not the media. It’ll be business-as-usual.

    • Sandra Cowdrick

      WOW. I truly hope all you who say you’ll not buy Victoria’s Secret because of this REALLY mean that you’ll only buy from Fair trade companies that are not making the same mistakes. If you use this as a reason to buy from Non-Fair Trade you will DEFINITELY be supporting child labor and exploitation of people in the world.

      At least Victoria’s Secret is TRYING to do something about the horrors our materialistic society brings about. Most stores don’t even try, and yes, the vast majority of our products come from child labor and human exploitation!. Please don’t go to Wal-Mart or Macy’s thinking it’s a better store, they, as most, contribute to this problem far more than those who at least try to solve it, like VC.