All Articles Tagged "fair trade"

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

December 15th, 2011 - By Brande Victorian
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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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The Shea Butter Economy: How Moisture Involves Big Money and Exploitation

July 6th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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Photo courtesy of Kelly Burns


By H. Fields Grenée

Shea Butter is coveted by global cosmetic companies for its amazing moisturizing properties. As an increasingly sought after ingredient in everything from soothing and nourishing hair and skin care products to lip balms and exfoliating creams – the benefits of shea butter are in high demand across the globe.

The connotation of shea butter however is drastically different among the women of sub-Saharan Africa who harvest the nut of the Karite tree, from which shea butter originates. They are among the 1.2 billion people that live in extreme poverty. That equals one out of every five people on the planet living on less than a dollar a day.

To them shea butter is deemed as “Women’s Gold” for the few extra dollars its yield affords. For in this region it is the women who  manually collect, sort, crush, roast, grind, separate the oils from the butter and shape the finished product. It’s all done during the scorching late spring early summer arid heat of the savanna. All done with the majority sold at “so-called” fair trade prices.

The contradictions of distribution

Processing of shea nuts often takes place within local cooperatives where between 100 to 800 women work every season. Cooperatives are mainly operated by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or are small local businesses. The women employed via the cooperative either sell the nuts they collected from the communal lands where the Karite Tree grows or they process them into unrefined shea butter. It takes three kilos of shea nuts to create one kilo of shea butter (1kg equals 2.2 pounds).

Shea processing takes two routes. The raw nuts are sold to Asian oil companies in bulk who extract, refine and sell the oil to Europe for cosmetic purposes. Whereas unrefined shea butter is locally processed, certified organic, graded for purity then pushed onto the world market by upper level distributors. In both scenarios a hefty markup is added with none of the profits trickle down.

“Poverty pimps, that’s all many NGOs really are,” stated Dr. Samuel Hunter of the American Shea Butter Institute. “They claim that they are in the villages to help the people when in actuality their application of fair trade versus a living wage is often the biggest enabler of poverty for the women throughout this region.”

The money generated from shea butter production is desperately needed. It pays for food, clothing, child school fees and the like; therefore fair trade compensation equates survival. But have no doubt, the women recognize based on its many uses throughout the generations that shea butter is a precious substance. They, as Dr. Hunter stressed just lack the resources to produce a superior product on their own that can be traded on the world market.

Retailers Play Fair with the Artisans Who Create Their Imported Goods

November 22nd, 2010 - By TheEditor
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( — Five years of fair trade on Bank Street.  That, says Marcie Boyer, is an achievement she and partner David Lewis hardly could envision when they started out with an idea, a display tent and some fair-trade goods to sell at fairs and festivals.  But over the years, they’ve persevered, moved twice along Bank Street, and survived a deep, stinging recession. Today, their Flavours of Life store at 86 Bank St. is celebrating a half-decade of retailing, and fair trading, in downtown New London.  Boyer, who is the store’s owner, says it hasn’t always been easy. She says that hers is the only shop in eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island that is entirely committed to an inventory of fair-trade goods. She is active, as well, in the Fair Trade Federation and is a common go-to person for those who are considering dipping their toes into the fair-trading retail arena.

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Divine Chocolate Touts The Conscientious Business Model

May 13th, 2010 - By TheEditor
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by Caletha Crawford

"Cecelia Appianim"In the U.S., eating chocolate is often referred to as a guilty pleasure. But Divine Chocolate gives confectionery lovers a way to feed their philanthropic tendencies as well as satisfy their sweet tooth. Through a unique farmer-owned and fair trade structure, the company supports and uplifts the cocoa growers who undertake the tedious task of farming and processing the beans that go into each ounce of the various chocolate products. The dividends of ownership not only provide monetary rewards but also a sense of dignity to the collective of workers laboring to get their products to mass market.

It all started with Kuapa Kokoo, a farmer cooperative in Ghana that was formed as a licensed buying company to institute fair pricing and ethical principles for its members. Without a structure like this, West African farmers—who produce 70 percent of the world’s cocoa beans—suffer from poor work environments, unjust price gouging or other exploitative practices. According to the 2002 International Institute of Tropical Agriculture report, 284,000 West African children engage in hazardous tasks on cocoa farms.

For Kuapa Kokoo farmers, however, the chocolate business is a sweeter enterprise. Fair trade—which by definition brings equity to producers in the global market—means the farmers receive just compensation for their crops ($1,600 per ton or the world price, whichever is higher, plus $150 per ton as a fair trade premium). This, in turn, results in higher revenue for Kuapa that then funds improvements to its member communities. For example, building schools has been a focus for the cooperative and a boon to the regions that previously did not have them. In this way, Kuapa is not only able to support this generation but also those to come.

The cooperative further shored up its members’ futures by electing to start its own chocolate brand, which became Divine Chocolate. In 1998, the company launched in the U.K. with funding from The Body Shop, Comic Relief, Christian Aid and the non-profit Twin Trading. Today Divine is a $25 million company in Britain, which pays dividends back to the Kuapa farmer owners. Though not a princely sum, the money earned could be enough to pay for a year of school fees for several children.

But Erin Gorman, CEO of Divine USA, said the intangible benefits of the unique structure are of equal importance. “The farmers in Kuapa have a tremendous sense of pride because they know that they’re not just cocoa farmers, they’re owners of a chocolate company and their voices will be heard,” she said. “If you’re selling to any of another dozen licensed buying companies, they can buy your cocoa or someone else’s. You don’t matter. A farmer once explained to me that that sense of not mattering made them feel like they were ‘tree minders’ and not people.”

Paul Buah, one of Kuapa’s 45,000 farmers and the elected president of the "Beatrice Asante "Farmer’s Union, has personally experienced the advantages of being a part of the cooperative. Buah lists access to clean water, additional schools and new mobile health clinics among them but he said owning the company means even more to him. “Apart from the dividend we receive from co-owning Divine Chocolate, it has given cocoa farmers a kind of recognition in the global chocolate industry,” he said.

Stories like these are what gave Divine an entrée into the U.K. market, which is largely controlled by one company. “The British chocolate market is very mature and very consolidated and in Britain chocolate is Cadbury,” Gorman said. “We went into the market with a fantastic story that no one had ever told up to that point about the Ghanaian farmers. And it gave consumers a way of participating in changing the terms of trade by eating chocolate. It was the first time people could be in partnership—and not in a charitable sense—with people in a developing country to create an outcome they [both] valued.”