Human Rights – Clarisse Kambire, a 13-year-old girl in Burkina Faso, spends her days laboring in a West African cotton field, against her will, under the leering eye of her abusive boss.
The fibers from her harvest will later go on to factories in India and Sri Lanka, where it will be fashioned into Victoria’s Secret underwear, a staple in wardrobes of women across the United States.
“Made with 20 percent organic [child labor] fibers from Burkina Faso,” reads a stamp on a pair of heinous, zebra-print, hip hugger panties sold for $8.50 at the titan of lingerie’s Water Tower Place store on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
Forced labor and child labor are an epidemic in African farms but the cotton from Burkina Faso, Clarisse’s cotton, is supposed to be different.
The fruits of the 13-year-old’s days of backbreaking forced labor are hypocritically labeled as organic and fair trade, which means the cotton should be free of both of those practices – but as Clarisse can attest to, it clearly is not.
Planted last season, when Clarisse was only 12, the entirety 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.
Meier added that Victoria’s Secret is expected to buy the bulk of Burkina Faso’s organic harvest this year as well.
An executive for the lingerie retailer’s parent company says the amount of cotton it purchases from the West African country is insignificant, but that it is taking the child-labor allegations quite seriously.
“Our standards specifically prohibit child labor,” said Tammy Roberts Myers, vice president of external communications for Limited Brands Inc. “We are vigorously engaging with stakeholders to fully investigate this matter.”
Read more at Bloomberg News.