What’s Victoria’s Secret? West African Child Labor

December 15, 2011  |  

Victoria Secret’s fancy panties may be pretty and pink hanging in the store, but the process involved in making the product is ugly—starting at the root with child laborers in West Africa who are picking cotton to be made into nighties and other types of lingerie.

Bloomberg Markets recently conducted an in-depth investigation in west Africa to see how child laborers were being exploited under Fair Trade agreements.

What they found was that Victoria’s Secret made a deal to buy fair-trade and organic cotton from Burkina Faso in 2007 that would benefit the lives of the female farmers. The products from this agreement were rolled out just in time for Valentine’s Day 2009, and the special lingerie line was marketed as “pesticide-free, 100 percent rain-fed cotton. An accompanying booklet on the items read, “Good for women. Good for the children who depend on them.”

But Bloomberg’s report suggests anything but, describing the lives of child laborers like 13-year-old Clarisse Kambire whose work conditions of being physically abused and denied food cause her to have nightmares. All of Burkina Faso’s organic crop from last season was bought by Victoria’s Secret , and according to Georges Guebre, leader of the country’s organic and fair- trade program, the company is expected to get most of this season’s organic harvest as well.

Victoria’s Secret denies any knowledge of these conditions saying the report “describes behavior contrary to our company’s values and the code of labor and sourcing standards we require all of our suppliers to meet.” The company promises to investigate the claims and Fairtrade International, which certified the Burkina Faso cotton farms in the first place, says it will also revisit its certifications.

Do you shop at Victoria Secret? Will this knowledge keep you from buying products from there?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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