For every man who sits gaping at a Victoria's Secret model prancing in her colorful bra and panties, a child in Africa pays a price. Bloomberg has uncovered Victoria's real secret, exposing the use of child labor to produce cotton in Burkina Faso.
Victoria's Secret heralds its use of fair trade fabric, branding their underwear as Good for women and children who depend on them. But an investigative report carried out by Bloomberg Markets has unveiled the extensive abuse a child suffers before placing cotton on a Burkina Faso truck that advertises fair trade.
Bloomberg chronicles the work of a 13-year-old girl, Clarisse Kambire, who labors in a West African cotton field. She is wrenched from her mattress by a farmer before sunrise--a mattress barely thicker than a glossy magazine, Cam Simpson writes for Bloomberg.
Kambire then proceeds to carry out the work of an ox and plough, digging more than 500 rows of cotton with her bare hands and a how. If she fails to keep up with the expected pace, her farmer whips her with a tree branch, according to the report.
Once the cotton is loaded onto a truck in Burkina Faso it is sent to India and Sri Lanka where it is used to fashion Victoria Secret's labels of color and zebra print, sold under spot lights in flagship stores.
Last season Victoria's Secret LTD bought all of the organic cotton from Burkina Faso, according to Georges Guebre, leader of the country's organic and fair-trade program. This year the underwear label is expected to get a considerable amount of its cotton from the same farms.
An executive for Victoria's Secret parent company told Bloomberg that the cotton it uses from Burkina Faso is minimal, but all the child-labor allegations are being taken seriously.
They describe behavior contrary to our company's values and the code of labor and sourcing standards we require all of our suppliers to meet, Tammy Roberts Myers, vice president of external communications for Limited Brands Inc., said in a statement. Victoria's Secret is the largest unit of the Columbus, Ohio-based company.
Kambire was not the only victim of such abuse. Bloomberg spent six weeks in the area and found Kambire's experiences similar to that of six other children in the area.
For their 2009 Valentine's Day series, Victoria's Secret launched their Fair Trade: collection, but fair trade cooperatives in Burkina Faso told Bloomberg that there is minimal training in safeguarding children against child labor and abuse.
Fair-trade International started a review in Burkina Faso after Bloomberg News raised questions.