Child Labor and Coming Clean About Victoria’s Dirty Secret

It is a multi-million dollar company built around and marketed as being intimate, seductive, and mysterious, but Victoria now has another dirty secret that, until recently, has been kept completely quiet.  According to a new Bloomberg report, areas in Burkina Faso were found to be using child forced labor in order to grow and harvest organic cotton to be used in the Victoria’s Secret lingerie line. 

Cam Simpson, who headed the investigation in Burkina Faso tells the story of a young girl, Clarisse Kambire, who has been working tirelessly at her cousin’s farm for the past couple of years. She is just 13-years-old and, after being shuffled around through many family members, found herself with her 30-year-old cousin at his farm.  Practically an orphan, Clarisse was at the mercy of her cousin who, like others, switched from simply growing millet (to feed his family) to pulling in large quantities of organically grown cotton every year (a prized commodity for consumers worldwide who believe they that are making environmentally responsible purchases).

But the work is hard, as Clarisse is quick to point out. This being her second harvest, she knew what to expect this time around.  To begin, the harvest season starts months in advance.  During this preparation time, Clarisse was responsible for digging rows in a field approximately the length of four football fields, with just her bare hands (plows are an expensive luxury that she does not have access to).   The field, then, needed to be composted, so Clarisse would tow heavy loads of manure and buckets of water all across the freshly planted field. 

This harsh work is hardly the least of it as fears of her cousin’s threats haunt her dreams and keep her awake through most of the night. “I’m starting to think about how he will shout at me and beat me again,” Clarisse explains. And her fear is justified as the man she knows as boss berates and hits her with a stick whenever she shows signs of slowing down and tiring in her work.  In areas of Africa, such as this one in Burkina Faso, cotton with an organic seal of approval is a hot item. Groups like Fairtrade International work as a buffer between large companies (like Victoria’s Secret) and small farms (like Clarisse’s).  The only problem is that while the priority of the work is insuring that the product is up to par, the standards of child labor are often times neglected or overlooked. 

For example, Baasolokoun “Bassole” Dabire—the president of an organic and fair-trade cooperative in the village of Yabogane—explains that the terms of what is permissible child labor are shaky at best.  According to him, child labor is deemed acceptable if and only if the child is not working for a biological parent, and that the child is at least 6 years old.  “Your own children, no, but somebody else’s child can work,” he explains.  This is where we find Clarisse, who was dropped off by an aunt to work for her cousin’s farm, instead of attending school—a  option she would much rather choose.

So where does this leave the lingerie megastore? Tammy Roberts Myers, vice president of external communications for Limited Brands, Inc. (the company that owns Victoria’s Secret) has expressed the company’s distaste with this new information: “[The investigation] describe[s] behavior contrary to our company’s values and the code of labor and sourcing standards we require all our suppliers to meet,” additionally stating, “Our standards specifically prohibit child labor…We are vigorously engaging with stakeholders to fully investigate this matter.”

For the time being, Victoria’s Secret has vowed to investigate the matter, which we hope they do.  And with this latest season over, Clarisse is left waiting for the next—which will begin again sometime next May.  Rob Cameron, CEO of Fairtrade International, has recently stepped down from his post, although it has been dutifully pointed out that his removal has had “nothing to do with” the recent allegations brought down against his company.

While Victoria’s Secret aims to impose a new detailed investigation, it is the time spent in the meantime that will decide the company’s stance.  To lend your opinion to the matter, and urge Victoria’s Secret to stop supporting child labor in other countries, sign the petition here.  

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Trade Group Opposition Overcomes Baby Bottle BPA Ban in Senate

November 17, 2010
By: GreenAnswers Staff

Efforts in the Senate to ban bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles failed today as opposition from the industry’s trade group and Republicans overcame Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif) efforts.
BPA, a synthetic estrogen, is widely used in consumer products ranging from hard plastics to canned goods. Studies are still mixed on the exact health threats from BPA, however evidence has shown potentially widespread reproductive and other health dangers.

Feinstein’s ban on BPA in baby bottles would have taken effect in 6 months. However, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the chemical industry’s lobbying group, led the efforts to prevent the ban.

Feinstein voiced frustration over the chemical group’s opposition, saying she didn’t understand how the chemical group could oppose a measure to protect the endocrine systems of infants just because they were set to lose money should it pass.

Feinstein had been working with Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) to insert the measure into the Senate’s pending food safety bill. Among others, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) was against the proposed BPA ban.

Plastic Bag Ban Fails to Pass in California While Local Governments Pick up the Slack

[img_assist|nid=191511|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=300]September 2 – California state lawmakers rejected a bill that would have banned plastic bags in supermarkets, liquor stores, and other small food stores across the Golden State. The bill which was previously believed to have the votes necessary to pass, faced strong opposition from bag manufacturers and oil companies.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents ExxonMobil Corp., Dow Chemical Co., and plastic bag manufacturers, was behind much of the lobbying to oppose the plastic bag ban.

In the end, the opposition triumphed by convincing enough state senators to vote no on the bill, eventually defeating the measure with a good margin. Although Gov. Schwarzenegger publicly supported the ban, this was not enough to overcome the opposition.

Despite the failure of the California state government to act, local governments are leading the way, with plastic bag bans already in place in the cities of San Francisco, Palo Alto, Fairfax, and Malibu. The city council in Santa Monica is also getting ready to take up the issue.

Santa Monica City Council member Terry O’Day noted “Single-use plastic bags are a burden to our oceans, our beaches, our economy, and the cleanliness of our city. Other communities have proven that eliminating plastic bags is sensible.”