Victoria”s shameful secret: Luxury underwear is made from cotton picked by “abused child slaves’
Victoria”s Secret lingerie is modelled by some of the world”s most beautiful and glamorous women.
Its designer products grace the shelves of top stores, proudly bearing certified organic labels.
But the billion dollar brand”s sexy and sensual image is being threatened by claims that its bras, knickers and lingerie are made from cotton produced by children who are forced to work long hours for no pay.
Child labour: Clarisse Kambire, 13, (centre), collects “fair trade” organic cotton. The lingerie retailer Victoria”s Secret are believed to have used cotton farmed by children as young as ten in its products
Denied an education: Kambire, was reportedly pulled out of school byher cousin with whom she works the fields in desperately poor Burkina Faso
Far away from the glamorous catwalks of New York and London, children as young as 10 were allegedly discovered by investigators from Bloomberg News Agency working under appalling conditions.
In one tragic case a child apparently sneaked off to attend a nearby school, but her older cousin, the farmer for whom she is forced to work, hauled her home and forbade her to return to lessons.
The cotton in question is produced under the seemingly trustworthy Fair Trade programme, in desperately poor Burkina Faso, a land-locked country in West Africa, bordering Ghana, where child labour is known to be endemic.
According to the U.S. Department of Labour cotton is produced with child or forced labor in more countries than any other commodity with the exception of gold.
Burkina Faso recently ranked 181st out of 187 countries in the 2011 United Nations Human Development Index.
The Bloomberg News Agency team spent more than six weeks in the country interviewing child labourers as well as their families, neighbours and village elders.
Glamour: Miranda Kerr models a $2.5 million dollar bra during the 2011 Victoria”s Secret Fashion Show in November this year (left) and model Lily Aldridge shows off one of the firm”s recent lines
They discovered wide-spread child labour with scores of the youngsters being denied educations and forced to work as slaves.
In 2008 the country”s cotton producers” union the Union Nationale des Producteurs de Coton du Burkina Faso, produced as study on the problem which raised concerns about the vulnerability of foster children being used in the cotton industry.
Dirty bussiness: According to the U.S. Department of Labour, cotton is produced with child or forced labor in more countries than any other commodity with the exception of gold
One such child is 13-year-old Clarisse Kambir.
This year Clarisse helped dig by hand more than 500 rows of the crop because the farmer she works for cannot afford to buy an ox and plow.
Now she must help with the harvest. If she”s slow, the farmer whips her with a tree branch.
This harvest is her second. Cotton from the first went from her hands onto the trucks of Burkina Faso”s fair-trade program.
Its fiber went to factories in India and Sri Lanka, where it was fashioned into Victoria”s Secret underwear – like the pair of zebra-print hip-hugger panties sold in the lingerie retailer”s Water Tower Place store on Chicago”s Magnificent Mile.
For Valentine”s Day 2009 Victoria”s Secret produced a special lingerie line sold with the claim that each purchase improved lives in Burkina Faso.
An accompanying booklet boasted: “Good for women, good for the children who depend on them.”
Aspokesman for the company said: “We take these allegations regarding cotton farming in Burkina Faso very seriously,as they describe behaviourcontrary to our company”s values and the code of labour and sourcing standards we require all our suppliers to mee.
“Our standards specifically prohibit child labour.
“We are vigorously engaging with stakeholders to fully investigate this matter.”
Manyof the children forced to work in Burkina Faso are related to the farmers. They are known locally as enfants confins – a French term for foster children.
On small-plot farms researchers found that 57 per cent of the 89 producers surveyed had one or more foster children.
Expansion: A Victoria”s Secret store in Philadelphia. Earlier this yearthe firm announced they intend to open a flagship store on London”s Bond Street and hope to launch outlets in shopping malls across the country
Across the country, it averaged about one per household. The problem was especially acute in the country”s southwest, which is the heart of the program”s production and Clarisse”s home.
There were about 7,000 fair-trade farmers in the program that year, according to data from Helvetas.
Victoria”s Secret was started in California, in 1977 by businessman Roy Raymond after he felt embarrassed shopping for lingerie for his wife.
/12/14/article-2074278-0F2DFEC500000578-956_306x384.jpg” width=”306″ height=”384″ alt=”Clarisse Kambire stands in a hut where her farmer stores cotton after delivering a basket from a field almost a mile down the road ” class=”blkBorder” />
Clarisse Kambire stands in a hut where her farmer stores cotton after delivering a basket from a field almost a mile down the road
Clarisse was born to migrant worker parents in Cote d”Ivoire which neighbours Burkina Faso.
Afterher parents split when she was about four she was shuttled between her father”s relatives on either side of the border until the age of nine.
At that point an aunt took her to the village of Benvar in Burkina Faso and lefther in the mud-walled hut of the her cousin Kamboule, a farmer, where she lives today.
Clarisse has no dolls, no photos, not even a toothbrush. “Nothing,” she says
She is woken by Kamboule”s shouting before dawn each working day.
Whilehe cycles to the fields she is forced to walk carrying her hoe, often through a blanket of humidity and heat approaching 100 degrees.
Describing the backbreaking work she is forced to carry out she said “It”s very, very hard.
“And he forces me to do it. “It”s painful,”
Ifshe slows down from exhaustion, “he comes to beat me,” she says.
He whips her across the back with the tree branch and shouts at her.
“I cry,” she says, looking down as she speaks and rubbing the calluses in her hands.
The two of them dig for weeks to carve a plot stretching the length of about four American football fields.
Kamboulesays he couldn”t raise fair-trade cotton without Clarisse. “If I leavethe child out, how will I be able to do the work”
Kamboule says. He acknowledges striking her. “I sometimes beat her,” he says. “This is when I give her work and she doesn”t deliver.”
Like Clarisse, his own parents left him with relatives to work, rather than attend school. Strong and lean, the illiterate farmer seems to work endlessly, wearing the same pair of tattered shorts each day.