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Victoria's Secret Uses Child Labor-Produced Cotton From Burkina Faso

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 12/15/2011 10:01 am Updated: 12/16/2011 12:57 pm

From Gap to Forever 21, our affordable apparel brands have a way of letting us down.

The latest is Victoria's Secret, which has been exposed as using child labor in Burkina Faso to produce its cotton. The news comes via Bloomberg Markets, which sent investigative reporters out to the fields in the west African country to see for themselves how the daily abuse of children results in the "fair trade" fabric used for Americans' favorite panties and bras.

What Bloomberg Markets found is astounding. Reporter Cam Simpson writes that Victoria's Secret struck a deal in 2007 to buy cotton, "fair trade" and organic, from Burkina Faso that would benefit the lives of the female farmers. The products made from this cotton, rolled out in 2009, were labeled, "Good for women. Good for the children who depend on them" and designated as "pesticide-free, 100 percent rain-fed cotton."

But while the cotton crop somehow managed to be certified fair trade by Fairtrade International, it most certainly was not helping women and children. Bloomberg Markets writes about one 13-year-old girl in particular who has been physically abused, denied food and forced to toil under the direction of a farmer to produce the cotton, which is sent to Sri Lankan and Indian factories to be transformed into Victoria's Secret products.

While Victoria's Secret's use of Burkina Faso's cotton crop began in 2007, it continues now. Writes Simpson:

All of Burkina Faso's organic crop from last season was bought by Victoria's Secret (LTD), according to Georges Guebre, leader of the country's organic and fair- trade program, and Tobias Meier, head of fair trade for Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation, a Zurich-based development organization that set up the program and has helped market the cotton to global buyers. Meier says Victoria's Secret also was expected to get most of this season's organic harvest.

Victoria's Secret claims not to have known about the child labor issue -- until now.

"[The child-labor allegations] describe behavior contrary to our company's values and the code of labor and sourcing standards we require all of our suppliers to meet," said Tammy Roberts Myers, vice president of external communications for Limited Brands Inc., which owns the lingerie chain.

So what happens next? Victoria's Secret vows to investigate the claims and Fairtrade International, which certified the Burkina Faso cotton farms in the first place, is revisiting its certifications.

As for the plight of Clarisse, the 13-year-old profiled in the Bloomberg Markets feature? Unclear. Read more at Bloomberg.com.

UPDATE: Fairtrade International has responded, saying that they were first made aware of the child labor allegations last week when contacted by Bloomberg Markets. In a statement, Fairtrade says that learning of the harmful practices happening on their farms "triggered our internal Child Protection Policy and Procedures" and that the group will "respond to detections and/or allegations of vulnerable children engaged in unacceptable labour within Fairtrade operations."

The organization added:

"We guarantee that if breaches of our requirements on child labour are found, we take immediate action to protect children, prevent the farms using child labour from selling into the Fairtrade system, and then support the producer organization to strengthen its own systems and develop child protection policies and procedures adapted to their specific context."

See the full statement here.


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