When I was a kid, my friends and I would make jokes about Victoria’s Secret: the bra cups are infused with chemicals that will permanently make your boobs bigger, any male who buys gifts there actually gets an amazing discount, the mysterious “Victoria” is actually a man who is selling his personal lingerie collection.
Well, earlier this week, Victoria’s Secret finally got out. It’s not pretty, it has nothing to do with being sexy, and it’s not even the least bit funny.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg Markets Magazine released an investigative report linking the lingerie company to child labor practices in West Africa: Victoria’s Secret manufactures its cotton underwear in Sri Lanka, using textiles made in factories in India; a portion of those fabrics use cotton picked in the country of Burkina Faso, a landlocked country that was supposed to produce organic, fair trade cotton. Victoria’s Secret originally entered into the production deal in 2007 with the goal of “improving the lives of some of the world’s poorest women and children through the responsible sourcing of cotton,” yet was unknowingly exploiting children and endorsing the practices they aimed to fight.
The article follows Clarisse, a 13-year-old child laborer who was pulled out of school to work in cotton fields, doing everything from carving plots that span the size of four football fields to fighting away harmful bugs usually controlled by inorganic pesticides, all while barefoot and susceptible to 100-degree heat during the summer planting season. And what happens if Clarisse gets tired and slows down? Let the farmer himself share his genius technique: “I sometimes beat her…This is when I give her work and she doesn’t deliver.”
The parent company Limited Brands released a statement:
“If this allegation is true, it describes behavior that is contrary to our company’s values and the code of labor and sourcing standards that we require all of our suppliers to meet,” the statement said. “These standards expressly prohibit child labor.” CNN reported that the company claimed to have immediately “began working with key stakeholders internally and externally to fully investigate this matter…we are prepared to take swift action to prevent the illegal use of child labor in the fields where we source Fairtrade-certified organic cotton in Burkina Faso.”
Though the news is shocking to those at VS headquarters, the practices are nothing new to farmers and regulators in Burkina Faso. The U.S. Labor Department has repeatedly cited the country for the worst forms of child labor, while the State Department has done the same regarding child trafficking to conventional cotton fields there. Somehow, this flew under the radar; even Fairtrade International, the world’s largest group of its kind, certified that Burkina Faso’s organic crop met its standards.
Some people are saying that though not all of VS’ cotton supply comes from Burkina Faso, the company should be boycotted; Victoria’s Secret should’ve been more aware of their own contracted labor practices, even if fair trade officials weren’t. However, others argue that it’s just another part of American consumerism that we customers blindly support.
For example, if you wear jeans, use eye shadow, or own a pair of gold earrings, you have at least 8.3 slaves working for you — according to Slavery Footprint, a new online campaign launched in collaboration with the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, created to raise awareness of modern day slavery. Here’s another not-so-fun fact: there are more slaves in the world today – an estimated 27 million people – than at any other time in history.
After taking the interactive, online lifestyle survey, it’s clear that it isn’t just our overpriced cotton underwear that’s supporting modern day slavery: it’s everything. Daily essentials like cars and coffee, college staples like smartphones and laptops. Oranges, cocktail shrimp, mascara and mouthwash, the list goes on.
Find out your Slavery Footprint now — college students can enter the Slavery Footprint Campus Challenge for a chance to win a trip for two to the 2012 mtvU Woodie Awards!
Read the full Bloomberg article here and watch the video coverage online.
What’s your Slavery Footprint? Will you continue to shop at Victoria’s Secret? What companies are endorsing these practices, unknowingly or otherwise?
Ashley is a UC San Diego grad who is holding on way too tightly to a potential career in magazines and goes to Vegas all too often. She’s fascinated with celebrities and strawberry beer and doubles as a pathological texter/emailer/blogger. Feed the addiction with tweets @cashleelee. Thanks in advance.