Not Sexy: Victoria’s Secret 'Fair-Trade' Cotton Harvested by Child Slaves
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Fairtrade International issued a press release disputing parts of the Bloomberg story, asserting that equating higher farmer wages with increased child exploitation was wrong. But it generally commended the piece for bringing attention to child labor, as well as trumping its own efforts to end child labor, supporting “Fairtrade producer communities to establish child-inclusive community-based monitoring and remediation systems."
Yet at the crux of the story is extreme poverty. Farmers quoted in the expose said they wouldn’t need child labor if they had enough money to buy farming equipment, but in lieu of that, working children would continue. And Fairtrade International, in its press release, expressed fear that decreased demand for cotton from Burkina Faso would harm an already delicate economy:
We are concerned that the article may discourage people and companies from sourcing cotton from Burkina Faso or from other impoverished areas, which would have a devastating negative impact on cotton producing communities and their families, including girls and boys. Regions where producers struggle against high levels of poverty and lack of stability are exactly where investment is most needed, which must be accompanied by strong community based monitoring and remediation systems integrated where possible within government action plans to eliminate child labour, rigorous detection methodologies to identify child labour and strong partnerships with NGOs to remediate them.
Victoria’s Secret is currently investigating.
“Our standards specifically prohibit child labor,” said Tammy Roberts Myers, VP for Victoria’s Secret’s parent company. “We are vigorously engaging with stakeholders to fully investigate this matter.”
The reality, it seems, just smacked the fantasy across the face.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.