ONTD Political

What is Victoria's Secret? Child Labor

12:33 pm - 12/15/2011

Bloomberg Markets went to Burkina Faso, where Victoria's Secret usually buys up the entire fair trade and organic-certified cotton crop to make the lingerie it sells in the West. There, the magazine found children of 12 and 13, laboring in the fields on pain of being whipped with switches by their bosses the cotton farmers. Burkina Faso-grown cotton is shipped to India and Sri Lanka, where it is milled into cloth, cut, sewn and finished (Sri Lanka and India, it is worth pointing out, also have their issues with child labor in the garment industry). From there, finished underwear is shipped to the U.S., where it used to be sold by Victoria's Secret with hang-tags that read, "Pesticide-free, 100% rain-fed cotton. Good for women. Good for the children that depend on them." (The company has since dropped the "good for children" part.)

Bloomberg, which spent six weeks in the country, reports:

In Burkina Faso, where child labor is endemic to the production of its chief crop export, paying lucrative premiums for organic and fair-trade cotton has perversely created fresh incentives for exploitation. The program has attracted subsistence farmers who say they don't have the resources to grow fair-trade cotton without violating a central principle of the movement: forcing other people's children into their fields.

Victoria's Secret's partners in cotton-sourcing, including the Swiss organization responsible for certifying the cotton and auditing producers, say they have raised concerns about child labor since 2008. Victoria's Secret says it never saw the relevant report. Cotton is produced thanks to forced and child labor in more countries than any commodity except for gold; the fair trade program is supposed to ensure fair labor standards are met. One of the children Bloomberg interviewed, a 13-year-old girl named Clarissa, took a reporter into the field where she works and demonstrated how she turns the soil with a hoe:

Bending at the waist, Clarisse buries the edge of the blade and starts scraping a deep row into the earth, taking small steps backward with each cut. "It's very, very hard," she says, "and he forces me to do it." Before long, her arms and hips ache. "It's painful," she says. When she strikes rocks beneath the soil, it sends the blade cutting into her bare toes. If she slows down from exhaustion, "he comes to beat me," she says. He whips her across the back with the tree branch and shouts at her. "I cry," she says, looking down as she speaks and rubbing the calluses on her hands.

As always, those $8.50 panties carry a high price.


Original report. Long, but seriously worth a read.
rex_dart Mod note.15th-Dec-2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
Can you add some tags, please?
the_glow_worm Re: Mod note.15th-Dec-2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
Done, Leo Jesus.
sesmo 16th-Dec-2011 12:09 am (UTC)
Do you know how much of that $8.50 for a pair of panties is actual labor cost? I have a feeling that if they paid living wages it'd go up by a whopping $0.25.
sihaya09 15th-Dec-2011 06:28 pm (UTC)
Oh man. I love VS's bras. I really hope this gets spread and things change, because it's terrible.
abee 15th-Dec-2011 06:28 pm (UTC)

Thanks, VS. I like your panties, so damn comfortable, and now they are made by children? FUCK YOU.

Seriously, is there ANY company that isn't dependent on child labor/denying employees' rights/etc?? Fuck, I don't wanna be a human being anymore.
roseofjuly 16th-Dec-2011 02:53 am (UTC)
Dude, this. You can't find a decent company that doesn't participate in the exploitation of people for labor - even the most expensive brands. If it's not using children and sweatshop labor, then they are screwing over their employees. And in the case of places like Wal-Mart, it's both.
redstar826 15th-Dec-2011 06:33 pm (UTC)
The vast majority of the goods we consume likely 'carry a high price'. I'm not saying that we shouldn't care and goodness knows if I had the time and the money I would be all about buying as many union made products as possible. But, for most of us, I think shopping is little more than a choice between various evils. Which is pretty damned depressing.
sihaya09 15th-Dec-2011 07:13 pm (UTC)
Totally agree with you.
maynardsong 15th-Dec-2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
youkiddinright 15th-Dec-2011 06:52 pm (UTC)
Yeah. That's why I hate it when people say "then just don't buy it", dismissig the problem as an individual issue instead of a larger problem that stems from the international capitalist system.
angelofdeath275 15th-Dec-2011 07:57 pm (UTC)
hate it when people that. "Just don't buy it!" "Turn off the TV then!" "No one is forcing you!"
nikoel 15th-Dec-2011 09:49 pm (UTC)
Well except as consumers in a capitalist society, not buying something (and convincing others to do the same) is the biggest way for the majority of us to have any impact.
angelofdeath275 15th-Dec-2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
But like its its something vital like nessescities, you'll end up buying somewhere else for it....which tends to be unbeknownst to you, just as corrupt. So I feel like boycotting can be a good form of protest, but has hole in it.
nikoel 15th-Dec-2011 10:21 pm (UTC)
Oh, I totally agree with that and run into it regularly. However, if I *know* one company is corrupt, I'll definitely avoid it and take the risk that the next company may be corrupt too.
amyura 15th-Dec-2011 10:24 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. I boycott everything I know of that Nestlé and Koch Industries produces, and it's like a second job. Georgia Pacific (a Koch company) makes just about every brand of toilet paper out there-- what am I supposed to do, not wipe? Nestlé's chocolate and coffee are shit anyway, but they also own just about every bottled water company there is and a lot of pet products.
aiffe 15th-Dec-2011 11:32 pm (UTC)
Do you need bottled water, though? If the tap water is bad, is it possible to get one of those filtering pitchers instead?

I get not drinking tap water in regions where there is known to be a problem (some areas of northern Canada are like that) or there's a bad taste/smell to it, though TBH if I lived in one of those places with sulfurous water, I'd get a filter that goes in the pipes, even if I was renting, because I can't even shower in that shit.

Most tap water is okay though.

For TP I recommend Seventh Generation, it's not owned by Nestle or Koch and is into sustainability, though dear god their TP is expensive.

For pet products...eh, I don't give my pets that crap anymore anyway. Full of fillers and garbage. My cats have actually gotten healthier since I started feeding them better food--more active and they've been losing weight. (They were fat, so this is a good thing.) It ain't cheap, but I still felt guilty for feeding them crap before, knowing now that it was making them sick.
maynardsong 15th-Dec-2011 11:49 pm (UTC)
Nestlé's chocolate and coffee are shit anyway, but they also own just about every bottled water company there is and a lot of pet products.
But there's plenty of reason to eschew bottled water anyway - the waste of plastic, the high carbon footprint, putting a price on a renewable resource, etc. etc. etc. etc.. The MOM's Organic Market that just opened up in Herndon, VA doesn't stock bottled water for those reason. Dunno if that's true for other MOM's stores, but I'm sure it is.
meran_flash 16th-Dec-2011 11:36 am (UTC)
I like how people are focusing on the bottled water portion of your comment, as if that is somehow the crux of your argument.
iluvhistory 17th-Dec-2011 04:40 am (UTC)
It's absolutely exhausting trying to divert your money only to the "lesser evil" companies, I completely agree. One person's protest purchases is enough to give me a migraine, but I also live with someone who has their own giant list of companies they boycott on top of the ones I do.

I'm in desperate urge of replacing a 2 TB HDD, but I've run out of companies to choose from since I don't buy Seagate, Hitachi, or Western Digital.
fanfare 15th-Dec-2011 07:24 pm (UTC)
I just mentioned this article to my roommate and she asked if I was still going to shop there, I said "I never shopped there, so no" and I told her that even if I did, it wouldn't really matter, anyway –– the only other stores that carry my size are also owned by VS' parent company, so it likely wouldn't make a difference. I said that it's a matter of choosing and her response was:

"That's why I decided I'm just not going to buy anything but groceries. I've got enough stuff."

I get the good intentions and think it's nice to avoid shopping at places you know are exploitative -- even if just to make yourself feel better -- but seriously, see how long that works out for anyone. What are you going to do? She just went out to do Christmas shopping, and asked for tank tops for Christmas. Anyone can decide to stop shopping at places like VS or F21 or H&M, but actually acting on it is virtually impossible. You're back to square one in no time.

I can sew, so I get even more eye-roll at the people who tell me to just sew my own bras and panties and clothing. Not only is it horribly time consuming and not just worth the effort for me, but I doubt it'd do anything, because I worked in the fabric industry for five years, in management. I had access to all our shipping sheets and I could look up what countries our fabrics came from and how much we originally paid for them. We were charging customers $20/m for a cotton we'd paid $1.12/m for including shipping, coming out of countries like Burkina Faso or India. Many of those fabrics were stamped for international sale only, made exclusively for North American retailers. Making my own clothes is probably no less exploitative, because despite doing the assembly myself, all the parts had to come from somewhere else.

Unless you are fucking rolling in money, there is virtually no way out.
celtic_thistle 15th-Dec-2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
It certainly is. There aren't many affordable options for most of us. It sucks.
deathchibi 16th-Dec-2011 04:32 am (UTC)
Yeah. :/ I feel horrible knowing that there's better I could buy but as it sits I'm squeezing dollars so hard the presidents are begging for mercy.
jwaneeta 15th-Dec-2011 06:38 pm (UTC)
Sucks for VS if they thought they were paying premium for Fair Trade and didn't find out until the report.
the_glow_worm 15th-Dec-2011 06:44 pm (UTC)
Victoria's Secret's partners in cotton-sourcing, including the Swiss organization responsible for certifying the cotton and auditing producers, say they have raised concerns about child labor since 2008.

It is now 2011.
jwaneeta 16th-Dec-2011 01:46 am (UTC)
Ah, I see. I missed that date. Not a patron of the product, just thought they might have been misled.
kitanabychoice 15th-Dec-2011 06:54 pm (UTC)
I can't shop at VS because they don't carry my size, but this is awful and I'm glad I wasn't inadvertently supporting this in any way. I can't imagine doing even for one day what these children do every day.

Thinking of some comments up-thread, I wonder how much more expensive my clothes would be if they weren't being made so cheaply? I mean, since I'm plus size I already pay upwards of $40 for every-day shirts, pants, and dresses (so not even anything fancy, just something to wear normally) and I complain that it's expensive. :|
hashishinahooka 16th-Dec-2011 11:33 am (UTC)
They don't carry my bra size either, and I was a victim of their "Let's tell a customer her bra size is smaller" ploy. Yeah, when she saw my tits coming out of every nook and cranny, she stopped.
othellia 17th-Dec-2011 01:32 am (UTC)
I was a victim of their "Let's tell a customer her bra size is smaller" ploy

Really? They sized me up from my self-diagnosed C to a D, and for once my bras finally fit right.
snapesgirl34 15th-Dec-2011 06:57 pm (UTC)
The link to the original report doesn't seem to be working, jsyk.
the_glow_worm 15th-Dec-2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the heads up! It should be working now. Go read it, it's heartbreaking.
snapesgirl34 15th-Dec-2011 07:06 pm (UTC)
No problem. :)

And I plan to, I'm also forwarding it to people I know (I used to work at VS and while I loved my co workers some of the corporations policies were pretty sketchy, which is why, sadly, this doesn't surprise me.
deathchibi 15th-Dec-2011 06:58 pm (UTC)
Oh god. I love VS's panties because they last longer and are comfy. Well, time to find another place to buy from... as long as I can afford it. I just wish I wasn't so damn poor and off-size.
tehjai 15th-Dec-2011 08:31 pm (UTC)
My boobs are too big for their bras, but still. Yeesh.
tehjai 15th-Dec-2011 08:34 pm (UTC)
hurp, I need to learn to read (panties, not bras), but the point likely still stands.
roseofjuly 16th-Dec-2011 03:03 am (UTC)
it says panties, but their bras are made out of cotton too and the cotton probably also comes from Burkina Faso and other such places.
tabaqui 15th-Dec-2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
I'm getting so *very* tired of reading about these companies who do this shite. Is there *no* company that doesn't exploit, lie, and basically get rich off the misery of others?

I don't shop at VS 'cause they're expensive and i don't have a need for fancy bras or undies. I would love to buy products made by adult, American workers - but that's close to impossible. It's so *frustrating*.

celtic_thistle 15th-Dec-2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
Is there *no* company that doesn't exploit, lie, and basically get rich off the misery of others?

I highly doubt it. Welcome to capitalism :/ Profit above all else.
maynardsong 15th-Dec-2011 11:51 pm (UTC)
You could try American Apparel, but Dov Charney's so fucking skeevy about women, so. There's one more company that's like that - progressive except so very much NOT when it comes to women.
tabaqui 16th-Dec-2011 02:07 am (UTC)
Eh. I'm not too into their stuff, plus - tiny town, everything is either horrible w-m or order online and i hate buying clothes online - i like to try on!

And yeah - skeevy is the word.
maynardsong 15th-Dec-2011 11:53 pm (UTC)
I mean, we can limit the amount of stuff we buy. Sometimes people have "Buy Nothing Day" - I don't see how holding more of those could hurt, right?
dragonhawker 16th-Dec-2011 11:30 pm (UTC)
....in what way does "buy nothing" day work? It's like those "Don't buy gas on Mondays!" movements. You'll just buy things on another day.

I have a strategy for not spending money on anything except absolute necessities. It's called being shit poor. It also limits my ability to choose vendors who make at least token efforts to use environmental and/or non-exploitative manufacture, so there's a down side.
compost75 15th-Dec-2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
I hate to jump on a right-wing bandwagon here, but if you buy Made in the US, you do avoid some of this crap. At least the sweat shops here are populated by adults.
aiffe 15th-Dec-2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
I've already been boycotting underwear. /TMI

Though...what angers me most about this story is the way the workers were treated, not their age. No worker should ever be forced into labor, or beaten for being too slow or some shit. That's unacceptable.

I'm less sure about condemning them for having such young workers. It's a first world luxury to be able to extend childhood well through your teens. What exactly are teenagers in Burkino Faso supposed to do, sit on their thumbs while their family starves? It'd be nice if they had real education and career opportunities there, but clearly they do not. I think the idea that they have to be a burden to their families for an extra decade because teens in richer countries would be getting an education around that time is absurd.

I know I've got piles of first world privilege, but I know when I was twelve, having been evicted from my home the year before, and doing the Grand Couch Tour with my mom, what I really wanted was to work. School felt useless and pointless. I wanted to help my family. It was around that time that I started having real problems with school, leading to me dropping out at thirteen. I heard it was legal for 12/13-year-olds to do farm work, and I dearly wanted it, but apparently it has to be on a family farm or something, and I wasn't related to anyone. I got my working papers when I was fourteen, the earliest legal age in NY, but no one would hire me because of the prohibitive labor restrictions on 14/15-year-olds. I became discouraged and depressed. I felt useless. I couldn't help anyone, and I couldn't carry my own weight.

I honestly think that this first world idea that teenagers are children is infantilizing young adults. They don't need to be protected from paying jobs. What they do need to be protected from is exploitation and slave labor. They need to have decent working conditions, receive a fair wage, and be able to quit if they choose to for whatever reason.

And seriously, get those kids some boots and gloves. Christ.
maynardsong 15th-Dec-2011 11:57 pm (UTC)
So does my boyfriend. /TMI

It'd be nice if they had real education and career opportunities there, but clearly they do not. I think the idea that they have to be a burden to their families for an extra decade because teens in richer countries would be getting an education around that time is absurd.
Or, we could do something about the lack of education? I /come/ from India, and it's a /bad thing/ that teenagers are forced to work /instead/ of go to school. Adolescents have the right, I think, to go to school and not be forced to work.

aiffe 16th-Dec-2011 01:53 am (UTC)
Getting better education and career opportunities there is a good thing and I'm all for it. I just don't think locking them out of jobs without giving them anything else is really helping. Having few prospects and having to work at thirteen because there's no education sucks. Having no prospects and being unemployed and unemployable at thirteen with still no education is worse.

Basically, I'd like to see things get better, I just think ripping out the existing support structure before bringing in any other kinds of opportunities to replace it is putting the cart before the horse.
maenads_dance 16th-Dec-2011 11:53 am (UTC)
Do you remember what it was like to be thirteen?! I got my first job when I was twelve. I was shit at it. I had no concept of responsibility or any homegrown work ethic. Why? Because I was a child. The idea that African 13-y-olds aren't children because they're African and therefore need to work in the cotton fields to make Western goods is such bullshit. Such bullshit. If you're thirteen and not in school (but you should be in school) you should be allowed to be a child. That means living at home with your parents and doing chores for your parents, not being a slave on somebody else's farm being beaten if you don't work quickly enough.
aiffe 16th-Dec-2011 04:17 pm (UTC)
I do remember what it was like to be thirteen. I wasn't a child. I was a very inexperienced young adult, and it hurt like hell to always be treated like a child. I desperately wanted independence and respect.

And no, when I was thirteen, I shouldn't have been in school. I made that decision for myself, thank you very much, because I did indeed have the maturity to make decisions that affected my life, and it's a decision I don't regret.

And I never said that anyone, ever should be a slave, or should be beaten. That's never, ever okay. At any age. I said that workers should have rights, including the right to quit, and the right to go home and be treated like a child, if their parents will support them. I am never, ever, ever okay with people of any age or nationality being forced to work or beaten. That part is an outrage.

Trying to make the Western ideal of adulthood beginning at 18 universal, though, goes against history and it goes against other cultures. It wasn't even what we believed until recently, and it isn't biologically true. The age 18 itself isn't magical, it's arbitrary. By the way, seeing these teens as adults means I think they should be given fair wages as adults should, respect in the workplace, and the autonomy to leave, stay home, or pursue an education if one is available (and it damn well should be) just as an adult should be able to make these kinds of decisions about their lives.
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