Child Labor: Victoria’s Dirty Little Secret

Target: Sharen Jester Turney, CEO of Victoria’s Secret Megabrand and Intimate Apparel

Goal: Put an end to child/forced labor in factories and operations that supply Victoria’s Secret.

It was Valentine’s Day 2009, when Victoria’s Secret first boasted its new “pesticide-free, 100 percent rain-fed cotton” panty line. Shoppers everywhere felt proud in supporting a company that helped to improve the lives of families living in places like Burkina Faso where much of this fair-trade cotton was produced.  Included with each purchase of cotton panties came a booklet that touted the partnership between the lingerie giant and the farmers who grew and made their products as an investment that is ultimately “Good for women.  Good for the children who depend on them.”

But a new investigation, headed by Bloomberg’s Cam Simpson, has shed light on the circumstances surrounding the harvest and harvesters of this “fair-trade” commodity.  According to the report, young children like Clarisse Kambire, a 13-year-old child laborer working on her cousin’s farm in Burkina Faso, are forced out of school to work long hours doing grueling work for no pay.  “When I get tired, he comes to beat me,” Clarisse explained of her 30-year-old foster parent/boss/cousin, who made the move from planting millet for his family’s use to upping production of cotton—which, thanks to organizations like Fairtrade International (whose aim is to support workers in low income areas) has made it a more profitable venture.

Of course, thanks to little or no regulation, the line between what is acceptable and unacceptable employment is blurred at best.  For example, Baasolokoun Dabire, president of a fair-trade cooperative in the village of Yabogane (the likes of which would be involved with Fairtrade International) believed that child-labor was prohibited—unless, of course, it was somebody else’s child doing the work.

Such is the case with Clarisse who, now that the harvesting season is over, can rest easy until a new crop need be prepared again in May.  Since the publishing of the Bloomberg report, Rob Cameron has stepped down and relinquished his post as CEO of Fairtrade International. What comes next is to see what Victoria’s Secret is going to do about the allegations. Already in a statement, Tammy Roberts Myers of the company has condemned the practice of child-labor and promised that an investigation will be underway to uncover faulty practices.

Dear Ms. Turney,

Clarisse Kambire, a 13-year-old girl living in Burkina Faso toils restlessly at the hands of an abusive employer all for the sake of getting the organically-grown, fair-trade, cotton used in Victoria’s Secret lingerie line.  Yet while she is unable to attend school and must spend all her days dreading the next, Victoria’s Secret has been able to cash in on her hard work.

Stories like Clarisse’s are not uncommon in regions of western Africa, where laws prohibiting child labor and forced labor are unclear and weak.  With the growth in demand for goods “organic” in nature, so has the incentive for abuse.

While an investigation is outstanding that aims to look into these recent claims of forced child labor, Victoria’s Secret must stand firm in its opposition to these abuses. Therefore, I urge you to help put an end to child labor by cutting business ties with any and all facilities that do not meet strict standards against it.


[Your name will go here]

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