Before buying your next pair of underwear at Victoria’s Secret, consider getting acquainted with the 13-year-old girl from Burkina Faso who is coerced to collect fair trade organic cotton that Victoria Secret uses to produce its bras and panties: Clarisse Kambire. Bloomberg Markets reporter Cam Simpson conducted an in-depth investigation on the child labor allegations and profiled Clarisse’s life. What Simpson reports is absolutely disturbing.
Simpson writes that Victoria Secret struck a deal in 2007 to buy fair trade and organic cotton from the West African nation of Burkina Faso that would benefit the lives of female farmers. The products made from this cotton, introduced in 2009, were labeled, “Good for women. Good for the children who depend on them” and termed as “pesticide-free, 100 percent rain-fed cotton.” The cotton was certified fair trade by Fairtrade International, which is designed to address the imbalances and injustices of conventional trade according to their website. But who is this really benefiting? Certainly not the women and children in Burkina Faso forced to toil endlessly in the fields to make our lives better.
Products that are organic and products labeled “fair trade” indicates a better quality of life for those involved in the manufacturing and consequently, the consumers. But as for Clarisse Kambire, she will never know about having a good quality of life, for it involves being physically abused, kept out of school, malnourished and forced to toil under harsh conditions to collect cotton. She is a child without a childhood.
Clarisse, abandoned by her migrant-working parents, was put to work at age 12 by the farmer she was left with a few years ago. The farmer is Victorien Kamboule, Clarisse’s cousin and he grows organic fair-trade cotton. “She has to dig rows by hand across this field, but this year, it’s about the length of four football fields.” says Cam Simpson on his article observing Clarisse on National Public Radio. “She has to haul manure compost on her head to the field in buckets and pile it up and spread it on every plant. She has to cut weeds. I mean, this is heavy, hard work that is intense for several months throughout the cotton season every year.”
Simpson also stated in his article an executive from Victoria’s Secret parent company says the amount of organic cotton it buys from Burkina Faso is minimal, but it takes the child-labor allegations seriously. “Our standards specifically prohibit child labor,” Tammy Roberts Myers, vice president of external communications for Limited Brands Inc.,said in a statement. “We are vigorously engaging with stakeholders to fully investigate this matter.”
Clarisse and numerous children in poor countries throughout the world have been forced to give up their hopes, dreams and childhood to help produce various products that we purchase constantly to help us live more comfortably. Buying such products may make us look and feel good for a short time. But, should we continue to buy certain products from companies knowing that they were made under such harsh conditions? Something to think about.
Read more about Clarisse’s life here.
Read Cam Simpson’s report here.